In Hoops We Trust: It’s Finally Here!

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on November 16th, 2016

It would be easy to open this debut In Hoops We Trust column with some sort of election metaphor, but haven’t we already exhausted all of those? Red. Blue. Bad. Good. Bah. Instead of focusing even more attention on the emotional land mine that our political season has been, maybe it’s time we look to college basketball to bring us together instead. (Excluding, of course, those ever-so-bitter rivals. Ain’t nothing gonna stop that.) In the spirit of unity, let us now gather ‘round the squawkbox, pennants high, our sauce-stained rah-rah sweatshirts on, cheering on Hometown U. against Directional State Tech. Let’s hitch a ride on the peace train, y’all, all the way to Phoenix.

The Season is BACK. (USA Today Images)

College Hoops is BACK. (USA Today Images)

After another tedious offseason of transfers, coach hirings and firings, speculative polls, NBA defections, off-court shenanigans, and Jeff Goodman troll stories behind a paywall, we’re finally here. And thank the heavens for that. To be sure, offseasons are unavoidable. And invariably they do set the tone for each new season. So this most recent one is no different. Players arrived on campus. Coaches bailed on hot seats (Vanderbilt and Memphis), while others claimed new thrones (TCU and, well, also Memphis). Fresh regimes begin in Stillwater and Palo Alto, while familiar ones reign in Chapel Hill, Durham, Louisville, Syracuse, East Lansing, Tucson and Lexington. One blue-blood rebuilds (UNLV), while some new bloods reload (Gonzaga and Virginia). A seat gets hotter (UCLA); another chills out (Indiana).

But in the end all of them expect to win. All of them dream of bringing home glory. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Even if only one of them actually will. The summer’s tumult now over, we get to finally look ahead. An unusually good wave of precocious freshmen arrives to fanfare or fan fear (if you’re on the wrong end of the recruiting battle). The defending champs have the cogs to repeat. The usual suspects have the horses to run. A new batch of would-be winners waits ready to pounce. Optimism abounds.

Scanning the early Top 25 shows a lot of familiar names, as would be expected. But there’s also Hurley the younger with Rhode Island and NBA prospect E.C. Matthews. St. Mary’s has half of the Australian continent’s good basketball players on its roster. Wisconsin is loaded with grizzled vets. East and west of the heartland, they still believe. In Oregon and Oklahoma, they ball. Defense rules as ever in Cincinnati and West Virginia. At Arkansas, St. Johns, Marquette and Florida, they dream of renewal. Across the Big Ten, they try to ignore football and focus on what it takes to get to March. And then there’s all those folks we aren’t even thinking of yet. Who are this year’s Shockers? Dayton? Butler? Texas A&M? Which young coach has his breakout season? Which well-weathered dinocoach gets his farewell rally to the top? Right now, anything is possible.

Last night, we got a pair of made-for-TV match-ups to give us a taste of what’s to come. Many fans are feeling that the whole ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off marathon bit is played out — or, maybe better to say that watching MAAC schools play third-tier SEC schools at 6:00 AM isn’t that compelling and they’re right — and it’s hard to argue that point. But at least the culmination of the whole thing, the six-year-old Champions Classic, does allow hoops hungry fans to see some of the game’s annual big dogs go head-to-head.

Tom Izzo Wasn't (USA Today Images)

Tom Izzo Wasn’t Loving the Champions Classic This Year (USA Today Images)

Take from the games what you will. Duke needs it 15 injured stars back. Michigan State will need all of Izzo’s magic with this roster of Miles Bridges + 12. Kansas has now had two stressful, big-time games already. And Kentucky‘s crop of freshmen resemble, well, its other crops of talented freshmen — raw, talented, brash, and streaky. But wisdom, and experience says we can’t extrapolate from this early point in time where any of those teams will be come January, much less March.

And ain’t that part of the fun? No, we don’t know what’s coming. We may think we know. We will get to know the names of the players, the coaches, remember the traditions, follow polls and fancy metrics, and deconstruct what we see with our own eyes. But unlike the NBA, to watch college basketball is to revel in the unknown. Mystery is at the very foundation of the NCAA Tournament, that annual madcap celebration of surprise. That wide-open three to win? Still a total crapshoot whether it goes in. Ten-point lead with five minutes left? Tenuous, at best. Cut and dry whistle from the ref? Such a thing doesn’t exist.

No, we don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s perfectly all right. That’s the way it should be.

What we do know is that this season is going to be wonderful for some fans, crushing for others, and entertaining for all of us. After all, this isn’t nuclear football. It’s college kids playing basketball. It’s wings and beer and the ole alma mater (who can stop asking my poor ass for donations now). It’s hating Coach K and loving Coach K and screaming for human victory cigars chucking threes in a 23-point blowout. It’s five months of up and down, of final scores and Final Fours, the squeak of sneakers in a cavernous island resort and the hot frenzy of a suffocating, on-campus gym packed to the rafters.

So, yeah, maybe the halls of power in DC can’t agree on anything, but we can. It’s time to play some damn basketball.

JWeill (27 Posts)

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