College Basketball

Positive College Hoops Vibes, Please

December 9, 2020

By Mark Titus

Ed. note: This college basketball season, FOX Sports is proud to announce a brand new newsletter for all your college hoops needs, with Mark Titus at the helm. Subscribe now!

THE OPENING TIP

As a man born and raised in Central Indiana, if you told me to guess how many times I’ve been to an event at Bankers Life Fieldhouse within a range of plus-or-minus 50, I would … well, realistically I would probably ask you why you’re asking me such weird questions. More to the point, I would have no idea what number to even throw out. The truth is that I’ve played in that arena more times than I can count. I played at Ohio State and won the Big Ten Tournament there a couple times, FYI. Not trying to make it a big deal or whatever, just stating facts.

But I’ve also seen just about everything there is to see there too -– monster truck rallies, WWE pay-per-views, Disney on Ice, Luke Zeller hitting a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to win the 2005 state championship. I even once saw Roy Hibbert drop 19 points, 18 rebounds, and five blocked shots in a playoff game against LeBron, D-Wade, and the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat, which is a sentence that gets wilder to believe as more time passes.

So when I pulled up to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday and saw a wide-open parking spot right next to the arena, you’ll have to trust my judgment when I say that this was a shocking sight. Even if there wasn’t an event at the Fieldhouse, a parking spot like this in the heart of the city would have been prime real estate. But there was an event. A game between the No. 1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs and No. 2 ranked Baylor Bears was set to tip off in an hour. As I turned off the car and prepared to walk to the arena doors 30 yards away, the magnitude of everything hit me: A college basketball game between the two highest ranked teams in the country was about to take place, and nobody was going to be there to see it.

Nobody but me, that is.

I got cocky. I texted a picture of my parking spot to my family. I texted a few buddies with some choice words that essentially amounted to “I’m going to be at this game, you are stuck at home, and for that reason I am better than all of you.” I started thinking of things I could tweet from inside the arena, and by that I just mean a bunch of worthless tweets that start with “as someone at this game” as a way to bolster my credibility and flex on all of my followers. The stars had aligned for this to be my Michael Wilbon at Chaminade vs. Virginia moment, and I had every intention of being absolutely insufferable about it.

But first I had to pick up my credential. I knew where the typical press entrance was at the Fieldhouse, but given the circumstances, I wondered if maybe I was supposed to pick my pass up somewhere else. So after I fired off all of my texts -– and as I stood right outside of the main entrance to the Fieldhouse -– I opened my email to dig up the information I had been sent a couple days earlier. And there staring me in the face at the top of my inbox was something that made my jaw drop.

As I clicked on the email, my worst fears were confirmed: The game had been canceled.

Or maybe postponed. Who knows? Point is that it wasn’t being played that day, and all of my chest-beating was in vain. Undaunted, I did a lap around the outside of the arena because … well … I’m a moron who thought that maybe there had been some mistake, and if I could just find the right security guard to talk to we could sort this whole thing out. I obviously had no such luck and was left to mope back to the car and drive to my parents’ house, all the while doing my best to ignore the onslaught of texts from the friends who had zero interest in taking the high road.

In the end, this was the most disappointing trip I had ever taken to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and that includes the time my dad gave me access to a suite for an Indiana Fever game and I invited all of my friends thinking we’d just stuff our faces on free drinks and food all night … only to look like an idiot when we got to the arena and I realized that you have to actually prearrange and pay for all of the “free” food and drinks in suites.

So, what is the ultimate lesson in all of this?

No, seriously. I’m asking you. Best I can figure is to not take things for granted or something like that. I only wrote all of this as a cry for help, honestly. I had been looking forward to Gonzaga vs. Baylor since they announced the game in August, and everything those two teams have shown since then has only heightened the anticipation.

Ughh.

Positive vibes only, though. Hopefully they can find a way to make it up. Let’s just move on.

BIG TEN STAT OF THE WEEK

This week’s Big Ten Stat of the Week comes to us via the only Big Ten program to lose in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

Raise the banner in Mackey Arena!

Just leave out the part where Purdue was outscored 44-22 in the second half and Miami’s best player didn’t play.

Here are the three biggest threats facing the sanctity of college basketball as we know it this week.

1. Jay Wright

With coaches across the country adopting a more casual look on the bench this season, the nation turns its eyes to the one man dapper enough to preserve the CLASSY and PROFESSIONAL look we’ve come to expect from our college basketball coaches. But folks, it’s with a heavy heart that I report that Jay Wright has zero interest in being your savior, as he has officially gone on record as saying that he hopes the casual attire sticks around permanently.

It’s already bad enough that coaches are using the pandemic as an excuse to go casual, as though there is any correlation to the two whatsoever. But now, Jay Wright -– a man synonymous with spending more money on his suits than his peers spend on five-star recruits -– is turning his back on formalwear? How can I look my non-existent children in the eye and tell them with a straight face that college basketball is the most important thing in the world if the coaches of our sport can’t even be bothered to make themselves miserable by tying their ties too tight and/or sweating through their jackets for hours on end? This makes me sick.
 
2. Technology

This past Friday, Marquette beat Wisconsin in a thriller that came down to the final seconds, as Justin Lewis tipped in a missed free throw at the buzzer to secure the 67-65 win for the Golden Eagles. But not so fast!

As was pointed out many times over, the clock appeared to have stopped at 0.9 seconds well before the refs blew their whistle to call a fall on the Badgers’ D'Mitrik Trice. When the foul was eventually called, the clock still showed 0.9 seconds.

But now hang on just a second! Because there also seems to be evidence that the clock in the arena and the clock on the broadcast were not in perfect sync, essentially making the above argument null and void. Now I’m left not knowing what to believe!

Meanwhile, there have been all sorts of technical difficulties in broadcasts across the country, as many networks are choosing to produce games remotely in order to limit travel and promote social distancing, and with that comes some inherent glitches here and there.

Which brings me to the only solution: We have to abandon technology. Instead of electronic timekeepers, let’s just do like soccer does and have the refs decide to end the halves whenever they feel like it. That is how soccer works, right? Instead of using scoreboards, let’s just have the players call out the score after every bucket like we do in pickup games. Sure those of us at home would have no idea what the score is or how much time is left as we’re watching the game, but maybe that’s what we all need right now. After all, ignorance is bliss and we could all use a little less stress in our lives, so maybe not sweating over every single possession and constantly obsessing over time and score is just what the doctor ordered ... No?

Alright then. Moving on...

3. Michael Jordan

Under Armour introduced the world to the term “force majeure” in June when the apparel company tried to use the pandemic as grounds to back out of the 15-year, $280 million deal it had signed with UCLA. The school understandably didn’t take too kindly to this and responded by suing Under Armour on the grounds of “what the hell man, I thought we had a deal?” A nasty dispute unfolded and blah, blah, blah … let’s just cut to the chase.

Long story short: We finally got a resolution to UCLA’s apparel brand woes on Tuesday when the school officially announced a new six-year deal with Jordan Brand that goes into effect on July 1. If this doesn’t make you soil your britches over the thought of Mick Cronin having a budding dynasty on his hands, let me spell it out clearly for you ... Shoe brands run everything in college basketball and there isn’t a shoe brand on earth with more pull than Nike. There also isn’t a man whose logo gets recruits all hot and bothered more than His Airness himself. Pair those two facts with UCLA’s storied history, Southern California climate, beautiful campus, and a massive local talent pool from which to pull recruits, and it’s safe to say that all the pieces are there for UCLA to be BACK!

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Wednesday
Indiana at No. 20 Florida State (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Thursday
No. 24 San Diego State at No. 23 Arizona State (10 p.m. ET, FS1)

Friday
No. 9 Villanova at Georgetown (7 p.m. ET, FS1)
Iowa State at No. 3 Iowa (9 p.m. ET, BTN)

Saturday
Notre Dame at Kentucky (12 p.m. ET, CBS)

Sunday
No. 19 Richmond at No. 11 West Virginia (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 13 Texas at No. 2 Baylor (3 p.m. ET on ESPN)

Shoutout to the Ohio Bobcats for setting a Division I record with a 40-0 run vs. Cleveland State on Sunday.

Yes, you read that right. Ohio ended the first half on a 5-0 run, hit the locker room, presumably got the greatest halftime speech of all-time from head coach Jeff Boals, and then started the second half by scoring 35 straight points.

You know how when you look back on Wilt Chamberlain’s stats, they’re almost too good? He put up such mind-boggling numbers that it almost hurts his legacy in my eyes when I see that he averaged 50 points and 26 rebounds per game in 1962, because it just makes me wonder how bad the competition must have been if they allowed him to do that to them.

That’s how I feel about this. If Ohio goes on a 20-0 run, I’m impressed. A 30-0 run? That would leave my mind blown. But 40 straight points? I’m sorry … WHAT? At that point, I have no choice but to wonder how bad Cleveland State is. I don’t mean to take anything away from the Bobcats, but that’s the real story here. How can a team of Division I players let another team rattle off 40 straight on them? What is being said in those Cleveland State timeouts? Do none of those coaches understand that to win at this level you have to make shots.
 
"BIG J" JOURNALISM CORNER

The best #content of the week

After his team won their second straight Crosstown Shootout over Cincinnati on Sunday, Xavier head coach Travis Steele showed up at a local Xavier bar and paid off $2,000 worth of tabs for Musketeer fans. Under normal circumstances, this would be a no-brainer for #content of the week, but it doesn’t pack as big of a punch when you realize that Steele did the same thing last year — albeit he only dropped $1,000 then.

With that in mind, the Crosstown Shootout related #content I’d like to draw to your attention is this Cameo -– presumably booked by a Xavier fan out to troll Mick Cronin and Cincinnati -– featuring the former UC head coach congratulating “Travis” on “winning the city championship.”

In terms of pure hatred and pettiness, the Crosstown Shootout is the GOAT college basketball rivalry and nobody will ever be able to convince me otherwise.

HEADLINE OF THE WEEK

Speaking of the Crosstown Shootout, our Headline of the Week comes to us via the Cincinnati Enquirer on Sunday, Dec. 6:

Paul Daugherty: Xavier's beating Cincinnati said a lot about both teams – or nothing at all.

I have never clicked on an article so fast in my life. Kudos to Daugherty for delivering a column that was EXACTLY what the headline suggested it would be ... a story that told me a lot and nothing at all at the same time.

SCOOP OF THE WEEK

As first reported in this very newsletter, the 2020-21 college basketball season marks the beginning of the end for the algorithms. In case you missed the memo, advanced metrics are OUT and eye tests, gut feelings, and old school lines of thinking are all back IN. Further driving this point home is that an algorithm developed by Ken Pomeroy -– the leading college basketball algorithm expert of our time -–  gave Kansas State a 100 percent chance of beating Division II Ft. Hays State on Tuesday night.

I suppose this probably wasn’t all that crazy entering the game, as Kansas State is a power conference team that made an Elite Eight three seasons ago, while Ft. Hays State is a Division II program that entered Tuesday’s game with an 0-3 record (all against fellow Division II teams) and didn’t have their head coach or associate head coach on the bench due to COVID precautionary measures.

But now that the Tigers went on to WIN BY 13 IN A GAME THEY NEVER TRAILED, you’ll have to forgive me if I feel the urge to double down on my belief that in 2020 ... advanced metrics and algorithms are for the birds.
 
THIS WEEK IN TITUS & TATE

Tate and I dished out our Good Guy and Bag Guy of the Week selections on Tuesday’s podcast, before offering up our picks for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. For the latter, we used a confidence pool format, where we ranked our picks in order of how confident we were about them and assigned a point system in accordance to that confidence. You can subscribe to the podcast here, while all of our ACC-Big Ten Challenge picks can be found above.

Let’s just say that we saw the Virginia Tech vs. Penn State game going veeeeeery differently. Also, one more shoutout to Purdue for blowing a 32-14 halftime lead against a team without their best player, ruining what would have otherwise been a clean sweep on Night One for the Big Ten. Really great stuff, guys.

See you next week!

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