Hard Hits: Nothing Like College Basketball
"It's awesome baby," exults ESPN color analyst Dick Vitale during a competitive college basketball game. That has been his motto for almost two decades. Vitale is as passionate about the sport as anyone. He's gotten to travel to many great arenas and call some of the best action in the land. His enthusiasm is second to none. But also, it's because he's living a dream. To be able to cover one of the most exciting sports and see great college basketball players put on a dynamic show must be a privilege. This year has been no different.
If you're down without the NFL or a depressed NHL fan, you can tune in on almost any night and find a competitive college basketball game on TV. Watch a raucous Cameroon Crazy crowd ratchet up the intensity during an epic one-point victory over arch-rival North Carolina. See the best show in the country when undefeated Illinois takes its high wire act to Wisconsin and comes back in enemy territory and snaps the Badgers' 38-game home win streak. See one of the most underappreciated top programs this season in Boston College put on an unselfish display of teamwork and rugged defense as they defeat the Syracuse Orangemen by five as fans storm the court. Check out one of the top backcourts in America at Wake Forest lead the Deamon Deacons to a thrilling three-point win over a gutsy Duke team.
These are some of the stories that have made this season one of the best in recent memory. Where else can you find a bunch of rowdy students going berserk for their heroes and then celebrating a big win by mobbing the court? It's the best atmosphere in sports. These are still kids and you can see the exuberance on their faces. And fans are allowed to be part of it. It's not like pro sports where you have canned music blasting out of loudspeakers and security full blanket permitting fans from being part of a big triumph. Plus the intensity is far from a feverish pitch.
This is the best time of year if you love college hoops. Conference tournaments are around the corner and bubble schools are trying to make a lasting impression with the NCAA committee so they qualify for the 64-team tournament in March. In reality, 65 teams make the field but there is one play-in game to see who the final team will be. The term March Madness will become prevalent in a matter of days. That's when the real fun begins. Which school can be a dangerous opponent come tournament time? Will there be a school with a glass slipper who spoils the party and becomes the ultimate bracket buster? Which schools will be left out by the crack committee and have their collective hearts broken? It's all part of what makes this part of the year intriguing.
There will be the usual big favorite when "The Big Dance" gets underway. Illinois is trying to make history and become the first team to have a perfect season since the '76 Indiana Hoosiers. Fourteen years ago, the defending champion UNLV Runnin' Rebels had their shot at history. But they ran into a determined Duke squad in the national semifinals and lost by two points to the eventual national champions. There was once an unreal run by Villanova 20 years ago that resulted in one of the greatest upsets when they edged Georgetown for the championship, becoming the lowest seed (eighth) to ever win the tournament. That still ranks at the top in my book. It was that memorable.
These are the kinds of moments that have made college basketball a must watch. So, check out the conference tournaments to see who makes it and find out which schools do just enough to squeak into March Madness. And most importantly, watch the best tournament in sports that will have us all feeling like kids again at a candy store. Because you never know when the next buzzer beater is or the next huge upset. There's nothing like it in sports!
-So, legendary Temple coach John Chaney thought it was okay to send out a player and order them to give hard fouls and in the process break St. Joe's forward John Bryant's arm ending his career. When the damage had been done, the fiery coach knew he was wrong and even suspended himself for a game. But the NCAA gave him an additional two games to conclude the regular season. Chaney has always been tough but didn't he realize that his actions went too far?
-Why can't every basketball player shoot free throws like Duke's J.J. Redick?
-This rolling out the red carpet for the IOC just so New York can get the Olympics in 2012 is ridiculous. Mayor Bloomberg and Jets owner Woody Johnson make it sound like it's a "done deal" if they get their West Side Stadium. They bend over backwards when the Olympic Committee visits and even spend time with Jim Dolan in his luxury suite at a Knicks game when Dolan has been opposed to the idea from the very beginning. And the worst part is that there's no assurances that if they construct the stadium, that the Olympics are coming here. That's why it's a farce. The biggest one in sports. Ask most New Yorkers if they're in favor of it and they'll spit in their faces.
-What happened to Isiah Thomas' vow that he wasn't making any deadline deals to take on more useless contracts and eat up even more cap space? The way he talks about the two first round picks the Knicks received, you'd think they were from two lottery teams. Thomas would try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge before admitting that he's had a bad season.
-We thought Nazr Mohammed was the key to the Keith Van Horn deal. Guess we won't be seeing anymore Knicks Life repeats about Mohammed's bright future.
-What did the media really expect Barry Bonds to say last Tuesday? That he was sorry for rubbing cream and clear all over his body with no knowledge that they were steroids. Bonds has never been an apologetic figure. He still is one of the greatest players of his generation. It's very hard to compare eras. To be honest, I miss the days when Bonds was a 40/40 threat before he put on all that weight. Why doesn't someone ask him about that?
-Now that Randy Moss is a Raider, his off-the-wall antics will finally fit in with the Silver and Black image. He still is a great player and could wind up doing for his new team what Terrell Owens did for the Eagles. But is anyone thinking Super Bowl when they have Kerry Collins at quarterback and Tyrone Wheatley at halfback?
-Say this for Allen Iverson. For a guy his size and with a laughingstock of a supporting cast, he somehow had the 76ers right there for the Atlantic Division before they acquired Chris Webber. Iverson is as tough a player as there is and might be having his best season. Now, that he has a real star alongside him, it's playoffs-or-bust for AI.
-Based on how Spring Training is covered, is Opening Day in a week?
-When do Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez finally rumble? Shhh... don't tell anyone. They might actually catch on!