Recently I saw the same premature holiday commercial at least a dozen times, one soundtracked with an earwormy version of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.
With apologies to Andy Williams, a Rent-A-Santa and that local department store, the most wonderful time of the year tipped off Monday with the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and the start of the college basketball season.
For the next five-ish months, my life will be narrated by Dick Vitale and punctuated with the “WHOA OH OH OH OH … WHOA OH OH OH” pulses of that Zombie Nation song. I’ve cleared my DVR to make room for mid-majors (Hello, BYU-Utah State) and am about to break up with most of the primetime lineup, because my life is about to turn into an early-'90s Big mac commercial: nothing but net.
And why not? I can replace a number of TV shows with NCAA teams without losing the plot. You know, like this:
They’ve traditionally been deep, but over the past two seasons, North Carolina has been stockpiling talent the way unbalanced shut-ins collect stray cats and canned goods. Four players (Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller) are in the Preseason Top 50 for the John Wooden Award; no single school has ever stacked the list like that before. Those same four last names have been typed and hyped by DraftExpress as potential first-round selections in the NBA draft.
All five starters from last season’s Elite Eight squad returned this year, and a pair of Rivals five-star recruits (P.J. Hairston and James McAdoo) will be making their Chapel Hill debuts. That’s not to say that the No. 1-ranked Heels won’t be challenged early. Their non-conference schedule includes Michigan State in Friday’s floating matchup aboard the USS Carl Vinson, No. 15 Wisconsin in the Dean Dome and — 72 hours later — a trip to Rupp Arena to face No. 2 Kentucky.
Take a look at cheerleaders in action from around the country.
'Flip this House'
Speaking of Kentucky, coach John Calipari must have developed his recruiting strategies by watching reruns of this A&E reality show, where properties with potential are renovated, enhanced and (back when the real estate market wasn’t bleaker than a Cormac McCarthy paperback) quickly put on the market at a premium price.
That’s essentially what happens at Kentucky, where super-talented recruits are flipped to the NBA after one year on the team, trading lineup stability for gaudy won-loss records (64-12 in Calipari’s two seasons) and deep NCAA tournament runs.
For the third straight year, Kentucky scored the top-ranked recruiting class, led by forward Anthony Davis, guard Marquis Teague and two other players who probably won’t bother to decorate their dorm rooms. The freshmen Cats — including forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer — combined for 70 (!) points in Kentucky’s 125-40 (!!) exhibition detonation of D-II Morehouse Monday.
After appearing on CBS for eight years, NCIS has quietly become “America’s Favorite Television Show.” Seriously? I had no idea. NCIS doesn’t collect as much ink as some overhyped dramas on sexier networks. It doesn’t have the slash and splatter approach of other procedural shows; instead, it’s built around Mark Harmon’s unflinching jaw and defiantly silver hair-wings.
That’s No. 3 Ohio State, who have spent the past eight seasons (COINCIDENCE? I THINK NOT) quietly turning themselves into perennial contenders. During coach Thad Matta’s tenure, the Buckeyes have made a NCAA championship appearance (losing to Florida in 2007), won the NIT and are coming off back-to-back Sweet 16 seasons.
Jared Sullinger, “the single most dominant interior presence in the country” will bring 17.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg and 20 fewer pounds back to Columbus for his sophomore season. Sullinger and the other three sophomores in the starting lineup — along with senior William Buford — have the talent and the toughness to play until next April.
According to MTV’s website, Made gives teenagers the chance to “find out what they [are] really made of and what they could achieve when given the tools and the training. Sometimes they [are] successful, sometimes not.”
If it goes to plan, self-assured, self-nicknaming teenager Austin Rivers will be Made into the Second Coming of Kyrie Irving, one with a bigger attitude and more resilient toe ligaments. Rivers enters his freshman season at No. 6 Duke as the nation’s top prospect and might already be the most talented player on a Blue Devils team that doesn’t have a superstar. What he’s not — yet — is Irving.
As Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn wrote, “Before Irving had even arrived at Duke, [Mike] Krzyzewski said Irving had the ability to ‘transform’ the offense.” Krzyzewki later said “[Rivers] is not as ready as Kyrie was.”
Other than home-and-homes with UNC and always pesky Florida State, the rest of the ACC looks less threatening than the crowd at a Justin Bieber concert. Duke’s early nonconference schedule (No. 3 Ohio State, Washington, Temple) could send them into the 2012 calendar year with at least one loss.
'Soft & Cozy Extravaganza'
If you click to the Home Shopping Network on Friday morning, you’re in for a 60-minute showcase of warm fluffy softness, like blankets and slippers and No. 4 UConn’s nonconference schedule.
The defending NCAA champions only lost one player from last year’s team, which is a lot like saying Aron Ralston only had one problem during his 127 Hours in Utah. Kemba Walker might have been the country’s best player last year, especially in March when every minute meant more. With the addition of 6-foot-11 super-freshman center Andre Drummond and the return of Jeremy Lamb — their top scorer not named Kemba Walker — the Huskies are rumored to be an even better team.
We won’t know if that’s true until they make their way through two months that look softer than a Bounty ad, with games against Columbia and Coppin State, Harvard and Holy Cross. No Big East team has a longer wait between the start of the season and their first ranked opponent; UConn doesn’t see anyone on the AP poll until they welcome No. 22 Cincinnati on Jan. 18.
“The stunts you are about to see … are extremely dangerous,” the show’s disclaimer says. “And should not be attempted by anyone, anywhere, any time.” The same could go for Long Beach State’s schedule, which has to be the nation’s most terrifying collection of calendar dates. In the next six weeks, the 49ers will play five teams in the top 15: No. 1 UNC, No. 9 Louisville, No. 10 Pittsburgh, No. 13 Kansas, and No. 14 Xavier) and, even scarier, they’re the road trip every time.
Commercial flights AND five ranked opponents? You won all of the stunts, Long Beach. ALL OF THEM.
Although this SyFy series stars two amateur investigators who channel their inner Peter Venkman (does that make them Venkmen?), No. 13 Kansas is looking for the ghosts of former teams, especially teams who didn’t start the season with only one returning starter.
Despite unproven Jayhawks, there’s a lot of legacy at stake. Kansas has won five of the last six Big 12 championships and hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since 1989. This might not be the team to avenge last year’s Elite Eight loss (when they were impaled by the shards of VCU’s glass slipper) but they should find a way to make the field.
The Scranton-based paper company (A Division of Sabre) is struggling to regain its identity after losing the World’s Best Boss, Michael Scott. The BYU Cougars might as well stitch Dunder-Mifflin patches on their jerseys after Jimmer Fredette, his 35.8 minutes per game, 28.9 ppg and stack of postseason awards graduated to the NBA.
Fredette was BYU last year, more than doubling the offensive output of the team’s next-best scorer, Jackson Emery (12.5 ppg) who also graduated. Hope you’re ready to step up, Brandon Davies, because you’re about to become this team’s combined Andy Bernard and Dwight Shrute.
'Two Broke Girls'
Much like the struggling title characters, nobody has less to lose than Wake Forest and Boston College, who will fight each other — twice! — to see who’s the bottom of the ACC barrel.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Based on their dismal showing last season season, Wake Forest might have already leaked through the bottom of the barrel, staining the carpet beneath the barrel and seeping into the drywall that surrounds it.
After ending the year with 11 straight losses, the Demon Deacons had two players dismissed from school following arrests, one who withdrew after a DUI incident and had another transfer to USC, where the basketball team actually has a chance of winning more games than the football team.
On top of that, promising senior Ty Walker will be suspended for the first part of the season.
As for Boston College, they don’t return a single starter from last season’s team. Their leading scorer is Danny Rubin, a walk-on who averaged 4.1 ppg.
'The Biggest Loser'
The Big East Tournament is on pace to drop 3,000 pounds, after West Virginia leaves for greener pastures in the Big 12 and Pitt and Syracuse head for the Greensboro pastures of the ACC.
This season could be the last incarnation of what has been the most consistently entertaining five-day stretch in college basketball with an ensemble cast that has been one of the most consistently exciting. All that consistency, though, is disappearing faster than commissioner John Marinatto’s hairline.
If this is the final year of the tourney — and of the conference as we know it — I hope it’s a memorable one.
Either way, it’ll be worth watching.
Jelisa Castrodale has learned a lot about life by making a mess of her own. Read more at jelisacastrodale.com , follow her on twitter at twitter.com/gordonshumway, or contact her at
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