"Feels good to be home, baby!" (Fabolous voice...I'm aware that Kanye sings the lyric in question, I just want you all to read it in Fabolous' voice)
There is no phenomenon in American sports more criminally underrated than holiday hoops. I could not feel more strongly about this.
For starters, there are games on in the middle of the day, which gives you that glorious "hey there's a major sporting event on television, it's ok to not be fully locked into work/class because it's some sort of holiday" feeling. Second, the games are typically intriguing and more times than not, competitive. Just take Thursday's slate for example.
You had a ranked team being pushed to the brink (No. 19 New Mexico fending off UAB in double overtime), another ranked team being upset (No. 10 VCU getting stomped out by Florida State), a handful of under-the-radar games that could wind up being huge come March (what's up, UMass/Nebraska, Charlotte/Kansas State and Temple/Clemson), and then Georgetown being kind enough to get into the spirit and give us an early taste of March by losing in the first round of a tournament to a team most sports fans have never heard of (Northeastern).
These are the same inter-conference tournament showdowns that we crave in March, only at the beginning of the season when we really don't know anything about these teams. It almost makes it more fun. Almost.
The best part about the 2013-14 helping of holiday hoops is that the tournaments are more spaced out than they have been in years past. We've got the likes of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and the Charleston Classic to keep us entertained through this weekend, and then we turn right around and get the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Maui Invitational, the Battle 4 Atlantis and a handful more all Thanksgiving week.
It's not the most wonderful time of the year, but it's not that far off.
Hey Melvin Ejim, how may teams have done more early season resume-building than your Iowa State Cyclones?
Oh you are far too modest, my man. Florida State's win over VCU was solid, but they'll need to come out of their upcoming Michigan/Florida/Minnesota stretch with at least two wins to top what you guys have done.
What the Cyclones did was knock off then-No. 7 Michigan and then go on the road and top a very good BYU squad without the aid of any Hilton Magic. Fred Hoiberg, who is now being affectionately referred to as "The Mayor" in Ames, has never seen his star burn brighter.
With arguably the most difficult stretch of its non-conference schedule taken care of, Iowa State will likely carry an unblemished record into its Dec. 13 showdown with in-state rival Iowa. That will be a game worth watching.
The declining attendance for home games at universities across the country has become one of the major storylines of the 2013 college football season, and now it seems that plague has extended to its basketball brethren.
It starts at the top, where No. 1 Michigan State struggled with the visiting Portland Pilots in front of a home crowd that disappointed head coach Tom Izzo earlier this week.
MSU fans should be embarrassed. It didn't make sense, and Izzo begged the fans to give away their tickets, if they didn't want to come. He even offered to be the go-between. He sounded like somebody who was still trying to build his program, not somebody suddenly on top, if only in the rankings.
"I've got thousands of people who are dying to come," Izzo said.
The small crowd "had an effect on a lot of people," Izzo said, "including me."
The trend has also extended to college basketball's most well-known student section. The attendance inside Cameron Indoor Stadium was so scarce for Duke's 91-55 rout of UNC Asheville that freshman superstar Jabari Parker said afterward that the team was forced to make its own energy.
I'm gonna go ahead and blame this on the same thing I blame everything on: Netflix. And if you're not buying that then I've got a secondary scapegoat: banana runts.
Even the most revered members of the national media ought to be given a free to pass to put objectivity on the back-burner and openly root for Austin Hatch when/if he suits up for Michigan next season.
Hatch is the former blue chip recruit who walked away from a 2003 plane crash that killed his mother, 11-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother, and then lost his father and step-mother in another plane crash eight years later. That second plane crash also left Austin with severe head trauma, a punctured lung, fractured ribs and a broken collarbone. For eight weeks he remained in a coma that doctors warned his family he may never wake up from.
Now Hatch has been fully cleared to return to the court, and is hoping to show at least flashes of his former self when he suits up as a senior for Los Angeles power Loyola High School this season. Even if he doesn't post averages anywhere near the 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds he recorded two years ago as a sophomore in Fort Wayne, Ind., John Beilein has assured Hatch that he'll still have a scholarship waiting for him in Ann Arbor. He signed his letter of intent to play for the Wolverines last week.
"I have been put to the ultimate test of resilience, faith, courage, work ethic, things of that nature," Hatch said during a press conference on Wednesday. "I'm not sure there is anyone who has been through and survived two plane crashes. I think God had his hand on me."
The entire nation rooting for one Michigan basketball player is already the best story of next season.
You've likely seen it by now, but the Belmont fan who sang his own personal rendition of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" before a James Michael McAdoo free-throw is the 2013-14 season's biggest hero to date.
Since Belmont wound up beating North Carolina in a one-possession game, I don't think it's a stretch to say that this guy single-handedly won the game.
Towson was one of the best stories in college basketball last season, going from a program coming off a 1-30 season in which it set the Division-I record for longest losing streak at 41 games, to one which went 13-5 in the Colonial and 18-13 overall. The only downer in all of this was that the Tigers were in the midst of a one-year postseason ban for subpar APR scores.
Well, the ban is no more and Towson spent the summer being hailed by many as the preseason favorites in the CAA. They showed why in the first three games of the season, beating Navy, Morgan State and Temple by an average of more than 17 points per game. They then showed that they're also still a program less than two years removed from a 30-loss season when they went into Villanova and lost by 34 on Sunday.
It doesn't get any easier for the Tigers, who have a date with No. 2 Kansas on Friday night in Lawrence. The Jayhawks hammered Towson 100-54 two years ago, in what was the first year at the helm for TU head coach Pat Skerry.
"Kansas, in my opinion, is the best team in the country," Skerry said earlier this week. "Certainly if we don't take care of the basketball, (the Villanova loss) will be nothing compared to what it will be down there. It's the best environment in college basketball. It's a monumental challenge and we're going to have to play unbelievable in all facets of the game."
Tipoff inside Allen Fieldhouse is set for 8 p.m. ET on Friday.
The fact that he, 1) plays for Wisconsin and 2) is 7-feet tall might make Frank Kaminsky's 43-point performance against North Dakota Tuesday night - a new school-record, by the way - the most improbable 40-point game in the history of college basketball. Kaminsky entered the evening with a previous career-high of 19 points, and had scored in double figures just five times in 74 games.
The only other 7-footer to score 40 or more points in a college basketball game in the last 15 years? Current Los Angeles Laker Chris Kaman, who also scored 43 for Central Michigan in a 94-92 win over Ball State back in 2003. The crazy thing about that game is that Ball State's Chris Williams was actually the high-scorer with 44.
It's also worth noting here that Kaminsky's nickname is "Fupps" (pronounced "Foops") or "Big Daddy Fupps."
I see you @FSKPart3 get money FUPPS!!!— Aaron Irving (@IrvSwerves) November 20, 2013
If I dont see fupps on sportscenter tonight im gonna be heated— JD Wise (@jd_wise22) November 20, 2013
KING FUPPS! #FrankTheTank— Aaron Moesch (@moeschpotato5) November 20, 2013
I think that's all any of us need to know.
Extremely early national scoring race update:
1. Roberto Nelson, Oregon State (30.3 ppg)
2. Elijah Pittman, Marshall (30.3 ppg)
3. Dylan Cormier, Loyola (MD) (29.8 ppg)
4. D.J. Balentine, Evansville (30.0 ppg)
5. Antoine Mason, Niagara (29.5 ppg)
On its way to the Maui Invitational, Dayton figured it would make a quick pit stop to hang an 82-72 loss on Georgia Tech and head coach Brian Gregory. That would be the same Brian Gregory who managed to take UD to the NCAA Tournament just twice in eight year and who some Flyer fans wanted to run out of town before Tech came calling and he bolted for the ACC.
Not that anyone currently residing in The Ghetto, Holy Angels or Darkside remembers any of that.
Right after you clean his NIT championship ring, Chris Pyle.
Duke's Jabari Parker, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Arizona's Aaron Gordon have established themselves as the four freshmen of premier interest so far this season, but how about what Noah Vonleh is doing for Indiana?
The Hoosier big man did not record a double-double for the first time in his college career when IU defeated Washington Thursday night, but that was largely because he'd already helped the Hoosiers to an advantage that left his presence on the floor unnecessary. He'd previously become the first freshman since Michael Beasley to record a double-double in each of his first four college games (Kentucky's Randle achieved the feat later that same night and has since extended his streak to five games).
I get that the other four guys mentioned are playing for teams considered to be top-tier national title contenders and that Vonleh isn't, but that doesn't change what he's done through the first two weeks of the season. A huge performance against UConn in the championship game of the 2K Sports Championship Classic Friday night inside Madison Square Garden would force the nation to morph its freshman debate from a "fab four" talk into a "fab five" discussion.
The word "fab" doesn't actually have to be included in any of these talks. It's just something that I've been hearing a lot and, well, I I just wanted you guys to think I was fab, too. I guess I just can't do anything right.
Thanks, Mr. Turner. Ditch that motorcycle for something safer. Just a hunch.
The freshmen have dominated the national discussion over the first two weeks of the season, but it's not like the sport's returning talent is subpar.
Beguiling Louisville senior Russ Smith, the leading scorer on last season's national championship team and a first team preseason All-American, says going against young pups who are projected to go in the opening minutes of next summer's NBA Draft isn't something that intimidates him.
"Playing against guys who are surely going to the NBA never scares me, because I've played against guys who are now in the NBA who I felt like couldn't guard me," Smith told Sports Illustrated last month. "That's nothing against them; there are guys in the NBA now who I've had trouble guarding. But when I look at [one-and-done] guys in college, I don't see them as anything more than a jar of talent.
"Once they put it all together they'll have an explosive NBA career. But as of right now, in college, I'm probably the most confident person going in, because I know how to play this game. If you haven't played a game of college yet, you're still in purgatory. You don't know the ins and outs. I've got a freshman year under my belt, I've got an explosive sophomore year, I've got a tremendous junior year, and, now that I'm a senior, nothing scares me."
We all need to start weaving "jars of talent" into our semi-derogatory vernacular.
Did you know NC State coach Mark Gottfried and Amos Lee are boys?
Did you also know NC State coach Mark Gottfried has already lost double-digit games at Cincinnati and at home to North Carolina Central (to be fair, the second one was in overtime)? The win for the Eagles was their first over an ACC opponent in 14 tries since they made the move to Division-I in 2007-08. It was also just the 14th victory for a historically black college team over a BCS squad in the past decade.
Maybe a little less learning the chords to "Chill in the Air" and a little more finding ways to attack a zone when T.J. Warren is in foul trouble.
Plenty of folks thought Billy Baron was doing himself a disservice when he followed his father to Rhode Island and then later to Canisius, but the uber-talented guard is thriving in his final season of college ball, pouring in 22.0 points per game for the Golden Griffins. He's dropped over 20 in three of his team's four games, including a 27-point performance against South Dakota.
The signature moment of Baron's season to date, however, came when he drilled this game-winner against Elon in the NIT Season Tip-Off on Wednesday.
Canisius, which hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1996, was picked to finish third in the MAAC before the season.
There were a number of people - including John Swofford and Mike Krzyzewski - who said during the offseason that the new ACC would wind up being "the best conference ever." It's likely that this was a general statement about the league's future place in the college hoops landscape going forward (adding Louisville next year will help), but some folks digested the statement as one directed at the 2013-14 season in particular. If that was the case (and again, I don't believe it was), the league is certainly doing nothing to make these people look prophetic.
Heading into this weekend, the ACC has already lost 16 total games and ranks just 10th out of 32 Division-I conferences in overall RPI. Boston College and Maryland have just one win between them, defending league champion Miami has already lost to St. Francis (NY) and Central Florida, Virginia Tech has been stunned by USC Upstate, and preseason top 25 teams North Carolina and Notre Dame have taken home losses to Belmont and Indiana State, respectively.
The good news? Wake Forest has been beating the absolute piss out of the Big South and is 5-0.
There's a new sheriff in town, boys. He's lost somewhere around 750 games in three years and he doesn't take kindly to your new-fangled, ordinary print neckties.
Slide on back to first class, Krzyzewski. There's only room for one z-laden last name in the cockpit.
Josh Pastner fell to 0-13 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and 0-8 against teams ranked in the AP Top 10 when his Memphis squad got lit-up by Marcus Smart (holy spin move) and Oklahoma State on Tuesday. It's a sexy stat, but the bigger issue for Pastner has been his team's struggles in the NCAA Tournament. Even though the Tigers have brought in blue-chip talent and dominated a bad Conference USA, they've gone just 1-3 in the big dance under Pastner, with that one being an ugly win over Saint Mary's in the round of 64 last season.
Still, it's the 0-13 stat that is the main talking point in The Bluff City this week. If that first number remains a 0 in a season where the Tigers should get somewhere between 6-10 more shots at teams with national rankings (Florida and Gonzaga are both left on the non-conference slate), then Pastner's recruiting prowess and national reputation might not be enough to save his job.
And finally, we end this First 68 as we end all First 68s...with the Creepy Macot Photo of the Week.
The young Oregon fan pictured eventually had to saw both of Puddles' legs off in order to get him free. He elected not to share any of his popcorn during the process.