College Hoops Is Here ... Let's Eat!
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.
Subscribe now and follow along as Mark Titus, a former Ohio State walk-on and co-host of the "Titus & Tate" podcast, breaks down everything you need to know about college basketball.
Read along below to get a taste of what you can expect from the mind of Titus every week, and be sure to sign up to have it delivered to your inbox! Time to dig in ...
The Opening Tip
A little housekeeping before we get started, and this is something I probably should have mentioned last week: This newsletter is a POSITIVE VIBES ONLY operation. If you are someone who lets negativity seep into your daily life … if you could be considered a glass-half-empty type … if you are a hater, a troll, a pessimist, a cynic, or even just a jaded fan of the Missouri Tigers who has been conditioned to believe that true happiness only exists in fairy tales, please do me a favor and take your nonsense elsewhere. You are flat out NOT welcome here.
Now, with that being said … COLLEGE BASKETBALL IS BACK!!!
I don’t care that there have been so many game/tournament cancellations and so many programs put on hold because of COVID-19 in the last week alone that I can’t even keep track of them all at this point. I don’t care that one of the biggest names in the sport has already started a crusade to delay the season a few months because of a growing fear that we’re going to have to shut down college basketball again.
And my overwhelming positive vibes won’t allow me to even acknowledge that there seems to be no cohesive plan or protocols in place to ensure that we’ll get from the start of the season to the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis four months from now without leaving a trail of absolute chaos in our wake.
What I do care about is that college basketball is the only major sport in this country that failed to crown a champion because of the ongoing global pandemic. Think about that. Every other sport found a way to bubble it up, play without fans, or -– in the case of football -– just pretend that nothing is wrong whatsoever. But because the introduction of COVID-19 into the American psyche happened smack dab in the middle of March, the only course of action for the NCAA was to cancel the rest of the season, wait it out, and cross our fingers we’d be ready to go in the fall.
Granted, I’m not sure the current state of things suggests we’re “ready to go” ... but I do know this much -– it has been almost 600 days since the last NCAA Tournament game took place, and almost 260 days since the last college basketball game of any kind. That is a preposterous amount of time to wait under normal circumstances, but it’s felt like a couple of lifetimes during a pandemic that has destroyed any ability I used to have to mark the passage of time.
But none of that matters now because, after eight and a half long months, there will once again be college basketball on my television.
As we rejoice at that fact, let me remind you all to not be picky this year. College basketball has historically been a buffet sport, where there are so many teams and so many games being played on any given night that it’s left to our own discretion just how gluttonous we want to be. In the past, you can be a college basketball fan who only watches every other game their alma mater plays, you can be a degenerate who stays up until 2 a.m. on a weeknight watching tiny West Coast schools you aren’t even sure are in Division I, or anything in between. The choice has always been yours.
With all of the inevitable cancellations and shuffling of schedules coming this season, think of college basketball more like one of those highfalutin restaurants where they serve a seven-course meal that the chef already picked out. There are likely going to be far fewer options on the menu this season, and you might not even know what you’re being served until you turn on your television and see it with your own two eyes.
But to that I say ... who cares? All I know is that I’m absolutely starving for college basketball. And at long last, dinner is finally served. Let’s eat.
Thanks to everyone who submitted a story last week. I’m going to compile all of the best ones and hopefully start posting them in the newsletter in the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime, if you’re new to the party, please send me your best/funniest stories about your interactions with college basketball coaches/players. Remember: We’re trying to all have a laugh, not ruin anyone’s life. So please make sure to conceal identities as best you can. For example, instead of using real names, you can say “a Big Ten coach” or “the star center for a mid-major school” or “definitely not Mark Gottfried.”
Email Titusandtate@gmail.com with your stories and I’ll start featuring the best ones in the newsletter!
Big Ten Stat of the Week
This week’s Big Ten Stat of the Week comes to us from the official Maryland Basketball Twitter account, who will no doubt take exception to the fact that later in this newsletter, I joke about my disgust over a Maryland player being the lone Big Ten representative in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. For that, I sincerely apologize. Maryland has certainly done plenty to earn its place in the Big Ten, like winning a share of the conference title last year.
Or tweeting out nonsensical statistics like this.
Welcome home, Maryland. I can’t believe I ever thought you wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the Big Ten.
What To Watch For
No. 18 Arizona State vs. Rhode Island at Mohegan Sun (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 3 Villanova vs. Boston College at Mohegan Sun (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 22 UCLA @ San Diego State (10:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 6 Kansas at Suncoast Credit Union Arena (1:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
(Potentially) No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 18 Arizona State at Mohegan Sun (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. Auburn at Suncoast Credit Union Arena (11 a.m. ET, FOX)
Notre Dame at No. 13 Michigan State (8 p.m. ET, BTN)
Richmond at No. 10 Kentucky (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 14 Texas Tech vs. No. 17 Houston at Dickies Arena (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Maui Invitational from Asheville, NC (12 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2)
No. 13 Michigan State at No. 9 Duke (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 10 Kentucky vs. No. 6 Kansas at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The Triple Threats section of the newsletter is devoted to breaking down the week’s top three threats facing the sanctity of college basketball as we know it. Here are the things you need to be on high alert for this week:
1. Advanced Metrics
Like every other sport in this great nation of ours, college basketball has succumbed in the last decade or so to an army of nerds convincing us to trust their fancy “data” and “facts” over what my eyes -– and more importantly my GUT -– tell me when I watch basketball. Whether it’s the RPI, the NET, the BPI, the VBDI, Andy Katz’s tier system, or whatever KenPom calls his formula, we’ve let the algorithms go unchecked for far too long. Now we’ve reached a point of critical mass, and if we don’t act soon, I fear we might be doomed to a future where nobody watches actual basketball because they’re too busy refreshing their spreadsheets.
But fear not folks, as the day of reckoning just might be upon us. Because here’s another lesson I’ve learned in the almost 260 days without college basketball: Data is for the birds, unless it backs up my preconceived beliefs. That’s especially going to be true in a season where one team might be 4-0, while another team is 13-4. How is an algorithm going to make sense of which team is better in that case? How can a formula sort out a non-conference season that figures to be a war of attrition more than a measurement of basketball competency?
What I’m saying here is that I think the eye test is about to make a comeback to college basketball in a big way, and come Selection Sunday, the committee members are going to leave their computers at home so they can instead settle any bubble disputes with a good old fashioned round of fisticuffs.
You know, just like our founding fathers intended.
2. Bruce Pearl
Speaking of the draft, what a roller coaster of a week it was for your favorite coach’s least favorite coach. Pearl -– a man whose Wikipedia page has multiple sections devoted to his history of transgressions -– stole the show on draft night when he apparently took a break from changing a tire on the side of the road and used his Motorola Razr to film himself saying the words “character counts” during a monologue about former Auburn star and No. 5 overall pick, Isaac Okoro.
Then, less than a week later, Pearl’s Auburn program self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2020-21 season in an attempt to avoid the NCAA’s wrath for former Auburn assistant Chuck Person’s involvement in the FBI/college basketball scandal of 2017. This ban, of course, came a day before word got out that Auburn’s 5-star freshman point guard, Sharife Cooper, has not been practicing with the team for the last few weeks because he’s in the process of trying to work out an eligibility issue with the NCAA.
This is the part where I’m supposed to offer some commentary or a witty joke or literally anything to really drive the point home. But I … umm … I got nothing. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes reality is so patently absurd that no jokes need to be made about it because reality itself is already the perfect joke. It feels like this situation is one of those times. Let’s just move on.
3. The NBA
Everyone knows that the NBA was formed out of thin air in 1950 when Bob Cousy dribbled behind his back while playing for Holy Cross, and ever since that time there has been a symbiotic relationship between college basketball and the world’s premier professional basketball league. Traditionally, the NBA has enjoyed using the NCAA as a feeder system that allows scouts to monitor prospects without expending too many resources, while the NCAA has enjoyed using the NBA as an excuse to never have to pay its players. For decades, this has been the arrangement, and by and large it’s been a pretty good one.
Because folks, there were two big bombshells that were dropped last Wednesday that will forever alter the relationship between college basketball and the NBA. The first came in the morning, when the Big Ten announced that the conference will be playing four games on Christmas Day -– a day that every sports fan has circled on their calendar as the day that the NBA tries to get morons to cough up the money Santa left in their stocking in exchange for a replica of the hideous “special edition” jerseys that the league forces its players to wear. Now, basketball fans will have to choose between watching a fully healthy LeBron sitting on the bench in street clothes because he’s taking the night off for load management, or a matchup between Michigan and Nebraska that would be a million times more interesting if it took place 25 years earlier and on a football field.
But that’s not all. Later Wednesday night, the NBA retaliated to the Big Ten announcement by not only drafting just one Big Ten player in the entire first round of the 2020 NBA Draft -– but by also making the one Big Ten player (Jalen Smith) be a Maryland guy. For God’s sake, there were more guys taken in the first round from the Australian League than from the Big Ten. The Australian League! You don’t even know what that league is called!
What’s worse, the NBA threw up middle fingers to all of college basketball and disrespected our beloved blue bloods by taking zero players from blue blood programs in the lottery, which is something that almost never happens. What constitutes a blue blood, you ask? Great question. It doesn’t even matter, to be honest. Whatever your definition of a blue blood program is, I can guarantee you that nobody from one of those schools was selected in the first 14 picks.
Feel free to make your own conclusions from that, but I read this situation clear as day: The symbiotic relationship between the NBA and NCAA is DONE. Finished.
“Big J” Journalism Corner
The best #content of the week
Am I picking the Oakland Basketball Twitter account’s hype video celebrating the return of college basketball as this week’s #content of the week because they gave a cameo to Titus & Tate or am I picking it because it made me want to run through a brick wall after I watched it?
Yes. The answer is yes.
Scoop of the Week
On Friday, November 20, 2020, at 11:56 AM Pacific Standard Time, the following message was sent to my Twitter DMs by someone I had never interacted with:
Initially, I did nothing about it. How can I trust this source? What if it was just a burner account from a rival scooper who was trying to make me look bad? What if the source thought he or she was right, but it turned out he or she was fed bad information, which would also make me look bad?
There were too many questions and not enough answers. Be that as it may, I drafted a tweet anyway.
SOURCE: Cal State Fullerton to put basketball activities on hold after positive COVID-19 test within program. Credit @titusandtate or kiss your career goodbye forever.
My hand hovered over the send button. I was sweating bullets. Other than breaking the news that Jon Rothstein was engaged to a real life woman, this would be the biggest scoop of my career. But I just kept thinking back on my journalism training, which consisted solely of the many journalism movies and TV shows I had seen throughout my life. I closed my eyes and tried to recall the words of some of the most esteemed journalists I could think of. Over and over, the same words kept running through my mind:
“Get me pictures of Spider-man!”
In the end, I could never quite figure out how to apply those words to this situation. So, being the coward that I am, I did nothing.
Almost eight hours later, the following tweet was sent from the official Cal State Fullerton Twitter account.
I guess you win some and you lose some in the scoops game.
Unless you’re me. Then you only ever lose.
Headline of the Week
This week’s headline comes to us via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
So they’re preparing to regularly get their teeth kicked in by Big 12 competition? What did Jamie Dixon do to deserve this kind of coverage from his local paper?
Not-Book Club (i.e. the best thing I read this week that isn’t a book)
I’ve been a fan of Paul Lukas and his Uni Watch updates for as long as I’ve had access to the internet, especially when he makes college basketball his focal point.
And thank the heavens above, he did just that on Monday when he dropped his latest edition of Uni Watch and chose to dive into the fashion of the 2020-21 college basketball season by breaking down all of the uniforms you can expect to see this year. Be sure to give that thing a read ... and then take to social media to voice your thoughts on those alternate North Carolina jerseys.
This Week In Titus & Tate
Tate and I hosted the FOX College Hoops Preview on FS1 on Monday night, where we talked with Roy Williams, Bob Huggins, Luka Garza, Cade Cunningham, Mick Cronin, and a bunch of other college basketball stars. If you missed the show, no worries -– you can watch the entire extended version here!
As for the Titus & Tate podcast, Tuesday’s show was dedicated to giving out our preseason Duffy Awards, which are the awards that we typically hand out the week after the National Championship is played. Tate and I shared our picks on serious things like our preseason player and coach of the year, to nonsensical things like what we think the best press conference is going to be this year and who is going to be college basketball’s biggest cult hero.
Be sure to subscribe to the podcast, give us 5-star reviews (but only if we’ve earned it), and remind your friends it’s time to start listening again!
And for the love of God, tell your friends about this newsletter too. You have no idea what it took for FOX to get me to start writing again. After a lengthy hiatus that I swore was a retirement, I spent the entire summer rehabbing my typing fingers back into shape solely so I could pump these things out. Please don’t let my brave, heroic efforts be in vain.
Oh, and send me Dirty Laundry stories!
OK, I think that covers it all. Now, one more time before I go ... COLLEGE BASKETBALL IS BACK!
See you next week!
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