Titus Sounds Off On College Hoops
By Mark Titus
THE OPENING TIP
And we’re off!
After an agonizing wait that felt like an eternity, we finally got to watch a bevy of college basketball games on our televisions last week. And what a week it was! The (technically defending national champion) Virginia Cavaliers were upset by San Francisco, Villanova was upset by Mr. November Mike Young and his Virginia Tech Hokies, Kentucky was upset at home by Richmond, and Jim Boeheim was upset at the world for what appeared to be misguided reasons. As is tradition.
But wait -– there’s more! Ohio gave Illinois all the Illini could handle, and in the process introduced the college basketball world to Jason Preston’s incredible story. LMU played Minnesota twice in a span of three days … and in the process introduced the college basketball world to future cult hero Keli Leaupepe. Pacific was operating on ... well, Pacific Time ... and still almost missed the opening tip vs. Nevada.
North Carolina let UNLV jump out to a 13-0 lead, before the Tar Heels went on to win by 27. San Diego State opened their season with a convincing win over UCLA, immediately prompting Aztecs fans to Google their team’s schedule to see how plausible another 26-0 start to the season could be. And Richmond coach Chris Mooney debuted a mask so ingenious that you have to assume scientists have stopped working on the COVID-19 vaccine and are instead focusing their efforts on trying to get their hands on Mooney’s brain so they can unlock an untold number of secrets about our universe.
The past seven days have been a great reminder of why we all love college basketball so much. It was exactly what the doctor ordered after such a long summer of uncertainty.
And it’s important that sentiment shines through because I don’t want to be accused of being a grumpy curmudgeon when I discuss what I really want to hit on this week: Artificial noise in arenas is the single dumbest thing I have ever experienced at a college basketball game. I’m all for networks adding noise into the broadcast, but when it comes to in-arena sounds, I hate it. I want whoever is responsible for it prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The reason I bring this up is that for the past five days I’ve been in Asheville, N.C. for the Maui Invitational.
File that under “sentences that would hurt your brain to read any other time but make complete sense in 2020.” I have been lucky enough to be one of the few people allowed in the arena here, which definitely is a flex but is also relevant because it needs to be highlighted that there are no fans in the building. There are players, coaches, team personnel, referees, people working the event, and not a single other soul.
Thus, I understand why someone might want to add a little spice to the environment. After all, one of the things that makes college basketball so unique is the pageantry in the arena -– the bands, the cheerleaders, the mascots, the fans yelling at the top of their lungs for two straight hours. It makes sense how someone could think that piping in some sounds of the game during these unprecedented times would help restore a sense of normalcy to a bizarre environment featuring cardboard cutouts, spaced out benches, and enough hand sanitizer to kill an elephant.
Instead, the end result just sounds like someone downloaded a white noise app on their phone five minutes before the tip, plugged it into the PA system, and turned it all the way up to infinity. For 12 hours a day the last two days, I’ve sat next to a speaker that has presumably been rigged to simulate an airplane engine, even though I’m pretty sure the Geneva Conventions outlawed this sort of thing 70 years ago. In what should be a pretty cool environment providing a rare instance of being able to hear players talk on defense and coaches calling out instructions, I’ve instead had all of that drowned out and my brain scrambled in the process.
I know -– I’m whining too much. But it’s not just me! The coaches and players all hate it as much as I do. In fact, I talked to every head coach at the Maui Invitational about this very thing, and you know what they told me?
Neither do I because I couldn’t hear them over the nonsense being pumped through the speakers! Which brings me to the real reason I think it’s worth going on this rant: Why are we unnecessarily making it harder for people in the arena to communicate? It’s already difficult enough with everyone expected to wear masks and keep some distance between each other. Anybody else notice how many coaches are wearing their masks on their chins all week? I want to get on them for that as much as anyone, but what else are they supposed to do if their players can’t hear them? Just not coach? Get a megaphone?
Now, if we MUST have artificial noise at these games, can we at the very least get some variety? I swear I’ll take back everything I’ve written here if one of these arenas pipes in a laugh track and/or “womp womp” when a guy throws up an airball or a rap airhorn after an awesome dunk.
BIG TEN STAT OF THE WEEK
This week’s Big Ten Stat of the Week comes to us via Troy Machir, who noticed that the Big Ten had three teams ranked in the Top 5 of the AP Poll and added that classic “wow, that’s kinda cool even though I’m not sure what it actually means” flavor we’ve come to expect from Big Ten facts.
There’s a lot of chatter out there about who deserves to be considered a blue blood, to the extent that the criteria has never been murkier. For me, blue blood status cannot be easily attained, but it can be easily relinquished. It’s all a very fluid situation that can change in a matter of minutes.
Here’s how I see it right now:
1. Ted Valentine
Whether you hate him or really hate him, you cannot deny that Ted Valentine is objectively one of the most unstoppable forces in all of college basketball. This was evident once again on Tuesday night during the Maui Invitational semifinal game between North Carolina and Stanford. Thanks to a lack of crowd for him to perform for, I took on the role of Valentine’s audience throughout the game, as he would frequently turn to me after making calls and comment on various players. And in this role, I witnessed him buttering up Stanford’s five-star freshman phenom Ziaire Williams in the first half with some compliments as he asked Williams to tuck in his jersey. Williams obliged and laughed along with Valentine in a way that any other context would lead you to believe they were just a couple of old pals shooting the breeze.
*Keith Morrison from Dateline NBC voice*
Oooooohhhhhh but if only the young freshman knew then the fate that awaited him on this cold December night ....
Dread it. Run from it. Ted Valentine still finds a way to arrive on your television. If that’s not worthy of blue blood status, I don’t know what is.
2. Michigan State and Kansas
I don’t make the rules, I just follow them. And one of the rules in college basketball is that if you win your Champions Classic game, you are automatically christened with blue blood status. Just because UConn and Villanova have each won as many national titles in the last decade as the entire Champions Classic field combined does NOT mean — wait what ... is that true?
I guess it is. And it says here that “vacated due to the COVID-19 pandemic” has claimed more national titles in the last decade than half the teams that play in the Champions Classic every year too. Well I’ll be damned. I … uhhh … let’s just move on.
3. The West Coast Conference
Between Gonzaga looking like an absolute wagon against Kansas and San Francisco knocking off preseason ACC favorite Virginia, that alone should be enough to make everyone at WCC headquarters jump for joy. But then factoring in Pepperdine taking UCLA to three overtimes in San Diego? And the way other WCC teams have found ways to steal headlines, like LMU with Keli Leaupepe and Pacific showing up late to a game.
I’m not saying the WCC is the premier college basketball conference or anything, especially after USC just wiped the floor with BYU on Tuesday. But I’m guessing the percentage of college basketball fans who can name more than two WCC teams has probably increased in the past week from five percent to at least seven percent. And that has to count for something.
4. Local Governments
A little over a week after New Mexico State relocated to Phoenix and New Mexico relocated to Lubbock due to the state of New Mexico’s COVID-19 regulations, Santa Clara County in California announced that sports at every level would be banned for three weeks. Most notably, this includes the San Francisco 49ers, who have relocated to Arizona for the time being to get around the ban. But the ruling also impacts the basketball teams at Stanford and San Jose State, who as I’m writing this, are still scrambling to come up with a plan to proceed with their seasons. Stanford’s first game was Monday in the Maui Invitational, while San Jose State is scheduled to play Pacific on Sunday to start their season.
5. Whoever created the mask Chris Mooney wore vs. Kentucky
TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT THIS BEAUTY.
All that’s left to take this thing to its inevitable conclusion is to find a way to ditch the straps and create a clear suction cup that sticks on your face. Not sure how exactly you’d breathe with such a mask, but you know what I do know? That it would look cool as hell.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
No. 4 Wisconsin at Marquette (7:00 p.m. ET, FS1)
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Baylor (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 12 Villanova at No. 17 Texas (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 9 Creighton at No. 7 Kansas (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 14 North Carolina at No. 3 Iowa (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
No. 5 Illinois at No. 6 Duke (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
I’m debuting a new segment in this week’s newsletter called Love For The Little Guy, where I will attempt to give some shine to programs that don’t get talked about much (if at all). For this first installment, I’m leaning HEAVILY into the bit.
I’m going to give you a list of (very small) schools that have played Division I teams this season. See if you can pick out the three schools on the list that I made up.
Here you go:
- Florida College
- North Georgia
- Florida National
- Keene State
- Southern Wesleyan
- Carver College
- William Jessup
- Toccoa Falls
- US Merchant Marine Academy
- Texas-Permian Basin
- Mary Hardin-Baylor
- North Carolina Wesleyan
- St. Andrews Presbyterian
- College of Coastal Georgia
- Dallas Christian
- Texas A&M-International
- Adams State
- Our Lady of the Lake
- Saint Katherine College
- Rogers State
- St. Louis College of Pharmacy
- Arizona Christian
- Howard Payne
Think you got it figured out? Perfect. I’ll tell you the answers at the end of the newsletter.
"BIG J" JOURNALISM CORNER
The best #content of the week
I’m not sure if you heard but we are living in unprecedented times that make scheduling college basketball games fairly difficult. But what does that mean exactly? Well, let’s turn to the Twitter account of America’s loosest coach to get an answer.
The method may seem unorthodox but if it’s stupid and it works then maybe it’s not that stupid after all. And guess what -– it worked. The following day, Purdue-Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman responded to Brey’s tweet and got the ball rolling on setting up a matchup between the Irish and Mastodons that will take place on Saturday in South Bend.
HEADLINE OF THE WEEK
This week’s best headline comes to us via SI.com:
Nevermind the very bad opinion on Bill Walton. That’s not what I want to focus on here. What I want to talk about is something that might not be as funny to all of you but I found hilarious, which is that a headline as vicious as this started with “my two cents.” Again, maybe I’m alone here, but starting a headline with that makes me think whatever comes next is going to be semi-innocuous. You know, like “My two cents: Indiana needs to make shots” or “My two cents: Gonzaga should be the national title favorite.”
That’s why the follow-up to “my two cents” in this case absolutely slayed me and reminded me of the “with all due respect” bit from Talladega Nights.
NOT-BOOK CLUB (i.e. the best thing I read this week that isn’t a book)
I enjoyed this article from Matt Norlander about his experience in the Mohegan Sun Bubbleville. The word “bubble” has been used so many times to describe the logistics of putting on sporting events, but maybe you haven’t really stopped to think about what those logistics actually look like. Norlander breaks it all down and provides an inside look at what very well may end up being how the NCAA Tournament ultimately operates.
THIS WEEK IN TITUS & TATE
Tate and I celebrated the return of college basketball with a podcast that we recorded 10 feet from the Maui Invitational court on Monday. In this episode, we brought back our old segment Good Guy, Bag Guy, where we make our picks for Good Guy of the Week and Bag Guy of the Week, among tons of other things. You can listen and/or subscribe to the podcast here.
Oh, and by the way — I didn’t make up any of the schools in the “Love For the Little Guy” section. All of those are real. No, seriously, go look it up for yourself.
See you next week!
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