Before getting into my main thought — whether or not college basketball is embarking on a handful of “superconferences” — here are a few random basketball thoughts from the past few days of flipping channels (which, this time of year, is college basketball heaven):
• I’ve been waiting for 20 years. Michigan’s Fab Five changed the look of basketball as we currently know it. I played with Chris Webber and Juwan Howard with the old Washington Bullets and cursed them every day for changing basketball from a game played in tank tops and shorts to a game played in tank tops and capris! I mean, the game is now played in culottes for goodness sake.
You have to hand it to them — C-Webb, Nook (Juwan), Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — not only started a uniform-trend that has lasted now for some two-plus decades, but they literally started a trend that led to a rise in an entire statistical category — turnovers. Pay close attention the next time you watch a game played at any level, and see how many times guards get the ball caught in, as Ron Burgundy so eloquently calls it, “the crotchal region.”
Yes, the ridiculously long shorts cause at least a few mishandled, fumbled balls each and every game. How could capris with an extra-long inseam not cause problems for ball-handlers who go between the legs with regularity? I mean, I did, without even thinking about it. Most guards do. You just throw the ball between your legs by habit. That’s why I also always refused the really long shorts; couldn’t bring myself to wear the full-blown breeches.
• I’m proud of starting a uniform trend back in the day as well, which has also proved to have staying power. I was the first player to play in “footies” — socks so low they couldn’t be seen above the shoe. That was in 1988. Later that year I began the bicycle-short under the shorty-shorts thing. A bit ill-conceived, I admit. (Note: Neither led to more turnovers!)
I’ve dreamed about it on occasion, the day that the Daisy Dukes would find their way back into the game. I was hoping last year’s Kentucky squad would have the confidence to get it done. That’s all it would take — one team, one very popular team. Because had the 2011-2012 Wildcats done it, had they worn short(er)-shorts just once, it would have caught on and spread like wildfire. Every team in the country, at every level, would be wearing the original shorts in which basketball is supposed to be played. But they didn’t …
So I’m putting it on this current Michigan team to come out in the short-shorts. Come on, fellas. Come on, Trey Burke. Come on, Tim Hardaway Jr. Come on, Glen Robinson Jr. … Timmy and Glen, just ask your pops; guarantee they’ll back the move. I’m just putting it out there. Be confident. Be trend-setters. It’s time.
• I’ve suffered for years from RHH — Random Hoops Head. … You can’t shoot the ball before you catch it. Impossible. Always hear analysts saying, “Such-and-Such just tried to shoot it before he caught it.” Can’t be done. It cracks me up every time I see a coach kneeling, watching the action near the end of his bench and simultaneously absolutely going off regarding something one of the guys on the floor just did — and yelling at the guys on the bench for it. Like, “Did you see that!? How many times is he going to swipe at the ball instead of take a charge!?”
Every bench player over there is thinking, “I know, coach, right? You’ve told him a million times. You’re preaching to the choir. But what are you doing telling me? Put me in and sit his butt on the bench.”
• Damn, Florida’s defense is good. They’re in a league of their own right now in the SEC.
|12||Michigan State||Big Ten|
|24||Ohio State||Big Ten|
|• Complete RPI|
OK, so I keep hearing people talk about college basketball being on the verge of having five or six “superconferences.” Whaa?? Let’s think about that for a second.
The Big East, in my opinion, is the only conference that could be considered close to “super” this year. It’s a cut above. The talent is deep. Coaching is superb. Pro prospects abound. Syracuse is loaded with talent; the Orange are deep, long, athletic and tough. Louisville has stubbed its toe, but the Cardinals are really good and built for the postseason. Marquette — very solid. St. John’s, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Villanova, Pitt and UConn — all very good basketball teams.
The SEC? Likely, one legit title-contending team this year — Florida. The Gators are, at this point, playing in a league of their own. There is one other semi-serious challenger — Missouri. (I still forget the Tigers are in the SEC.) That said, Mizzou is a decent team.
The only other team with a shot of threatening the Gators is Kentucky. An opinion coming from my heart more than head? Maybe. But I’m not sure many would argue that UK isn’t the most talented team in the conference (and maybe by a lot). But they are young, immature and, right now, consistently inconsistent. Of late though, they’ve showed some signs of buying into what coach Cal is selling.
The Big 12? Decent teams this year. Nowhere near the talent of the Big East, though. It’s Kansas and the rest. Baylor, solid. Kansas State is OK. I do like Oklahoma State some. But it’s not a super conference.
The ACC? This is a very down year for the ACC. Miami (Fla.) is the best team in the league followed by Duke. Both of these teams are threats to win it all this year with a little luck. NC State’s depth, or lack thereof, keeps it more a pretender than contender, and UNC is struggling to find itself.
Pac-12? Look, this conference is vastly improved. But don’t get me wrong — none are real contenders for the top-prize this season, in my view. Arizona is the team to beat in the league. Oregon is better, but I’m certainly not sold. The Ducks schedule leaves much to be desired; they’ve played a bunch of home games and go on the road soon, so time will tell. Arizona State is much better under Herb Sendek this season and may be showing signs of turning the corner. Colorado, much like ASU, is very much improved. UCLA is much better and Ben Howland really has this young Bruins crew playing at a much faster pace. UCLA is playing a more visually appealing style, compared to the walk-it-up-and-grind-it-out style which had been the norm during Howland’s tenure in Westwood. Still, the Pac-12 is a cut below, as a whole.
Oh, and the jury has just returned: The verdict is in after watching Oregon on the road; Stanford just pounded the Ducks. … Oregon — pretender.
The West Coast Conference? Gonzaga may be as good as anybody in the country, but it is much better than anyone else in the WCC. The league, however, is tougher than most, I believe. St. Mary’s — always tough. BYU — good again. Santa Clara — another team that can compete with the big boys. This is one conference that regularly gets hosed due to the over-inflated, over-hyped opinions of pollsters with regard to one conference. (We’ll get to that conference in a bit …)
The A-10? This is consistently the most underrated conference in the nation. The A-10, in my opinion, is the second-best conference in the country this year, behind the Big East. The A-10 is a man’s league. They play rough and tumble basketball and this league is athletic, as well. Butler is as good as anyone in the land. VCU — Shaka Smart’s team — is an awfully scary team. Shaka can flat coach the game. If I was 18 again, I’d play for him in a heartbeat. Those two teams are the cream of the A-10 crop, but Charlotte also is a sneaky team; keep an eye on the 49ers.
The Missouri Valley Conference? This year the MVC has a couple of nice teams — Wichita State and Creighton. Indiana State is much improved and has some very solid wins, with a few close losses to good teams.
|• Complete Big East Standings|
The Mountain West? This conference is much like the Missouri Valley. New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State and San Diego State — all pretty good. Improved conference. None of these teams though, is a serious threat to really contend.
Which brings me to the Big Ten. … Five teams in the top 25? And four teams in the top 13? C’mon. Where’s Ashton? I’m being Punk’d, right? This conference is overrated, by and large, year in and year out. The Big Ten’s teams steadily remain ranked because they beat up on each other’s over-inflated rankings.
If college basketball is one big happy family, then the Big Ten is easily the favorite child of the brood. Please explain to me, logically, how Ohio State is ranked No. 11? The Buckeyes have won one impressive game — Michigan, at home. OSU has lost to every other legitimate team on its schedule: Duke — loss. KU — loss. The Buckeyes also lost to Illinois, which was ranked in the top 25 for way too long this season.
I’m not even going to consider the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan State because if there’s a ranking more puzzling than Ohio State at No. 11, it’s Michigan State at No. 13. The Spartans have been beaten by UConn, which is currently 10th in the Big East (the country’s top/best/toughest/deepest/most talented conference). Sparty also lost to Miami, lost to Indiana and lost to Minnesota, the final team in the Big Ten I’d like to touch on.
Minnesota is currently ranked No. 23 in the country. The Tubby Smith-coached Golden Gophers also lost to Duke. But prior to the Gophers’ recent blowout win at home against Nebraska they were in full-blown Tom Petty mode — free-fallin’. Minnesota lost, in consecutive games, to Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Anybody can lose to IU, Michigan and in Madison — but Northwestern?
Sure, the Golden Gophers beat Michigan State and Illinois, but we’ve already covered both of those teams. Minnesota lost four consecutive conference games … and they remained in the top 25? Am I taking crazy pills? Louisville was ranked No. 1 two weeks ago and lost one game — to arguably the most talented basketball team in the country, title-contending Syracuse — and then the Cardinals dropped to No. 5. Minnesota was ranked ninth in Week 11, lost four in a row — all to Big Ten teams — and didn’t’ even fall out of the top 25. Four losses in a row and the Golden Gophers are still holding steady at No. 23. That’s just unheard of …
Watching six, seven, eight teams from the Big Ten make the tournament every year, only to have one, two, maybe three of them remaining after the first weekend of the Big Dance is beyond getting old. Indiana — legit title contender. Michigan — legit title contender. Otherwise, there is just no logical basis behind the rest of the teams in this conference being ranked so high. Sure, they are all extremely well-coached — but give this a try: Take away the potential pro prospects on Indiana and Michigan, and then see what’s left in the Big Ten from a pure talent perspective.
The Big Ten is a nice conference — but this year, especially, it is not elite. It’s the fifth- or sixth-best conference in the country, in my opinion. But the Big Ten being such a deep, powerful, tough, great league in 2012-13? Tell ‘em, Flavor Flav — “Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t believe the hype.”
Basketball “superconferences”? I think not.
Rex Chapman played at Kentucky from 1986-88. He was a two-time All-SEC selection as well as an NABC All-American in 1988 before opting for the NBA Draft. He was the No. 1 choice — eighth overall — of Charlotte and played for the Hornets (1988-92), Washington Bullets (1992-95), Miami Heat (1995-96) and Phoenix Suns (1996-2000). Follow Rex on Twitter @rexchapman.