Growing up in Washington D.C. put me firmly in the middle of ACC and Big East country. This meant two things for me as a fan of college sports. First, horrible football. For most of my life, I've been saddled with an inferiority complex about college football. I just didn't grow up with the SEC or Big 10 or even Pac-10, and that meant I didn't totally understand the magic of it all.
But it did mean growing up with great basketball, and once January and February comes around, the inferiority complex becomes elitism. The other leagues around the country just don't understand what good basketball really means.
Which brings me to the Vanderbilt and Florida game on Tuesday night.
My friend Muse was back in town after moving to China, and because we hadn't seen each other in six months, I agreed to meet him and watch his alma mater (Vandy) play no. 22 Florida. And I went into it with an open mind. Really. I did. But I can't imagine any game that could have justified my elitist tendencies any better. Here are some scattered, incoherent thoughts:
Dick Vitale might actually be insane. People spend a lot of time ragging on Dick Vitale these days, and generally, it's pretty mean-spirited, if not altogether unfair. But sometimes we just can't help it. I mean, some of the things he says... At one point, as both teams were clanging jumpers off the back iron and struggling to break into the 20s before halftime, Vitale explained the situation by saying, "Let's be honest. The one-and-done rule has hurt college basketball. It has really depleted the talent pool from what it could be." Um...
Are we sure about that, Dick?
The one-and-done rule has done a lot of things for both the NBA and NCAA, but it's sort of outrageous to claim that it's meant less talent for college basketball. Isn't it? Or would college basketball be better off ifand Perry Jones had skipped college altogether?
Let's be honest: Dick Vitale isn't totally sure what room he's in right now.
There's a difference between a close game and a good game. At one point in the second half, Vanderbilt tied the game and one of the announcers said, "Looks like we got a good game here." At that, we all agreed, if you have to explain, "Hey, this is a good game", then it's not actually that good of a game. And it proves an important point that applies to a lot of regular season college basketball. Vandy-Florida was close throughout, but that doesn't mean it was actually good. There weren't really any good players, there weren't many good plays, and the highlight of the game was probably a three-pointer that came with 1 second to go in the first half. Is that "good", or a case of two mediocre teams shuffling back-and-forth and exchanging missed three pointers?
Do you think that Billy Donovan regrets his decision? Not saying that coaching the Orlando Magic would be the best job in the world right now, but since he's come back to Florida, Donovan's Gators have pretty consistently featured a collection of mediocre talent that makes the days of Al Horford and Joakim Noah seem like a lifetime ago. Donovan seems firmly entrenched in the "Gary Williams post-Juan Dixon" phase of his coaching career. Do you think he ever wonders what he could have done coaching Dwight Howard, instead?
Related: Doesn't Vandy's Kevin Stallings look a little bit like Kyle from Tenacious D?
There was this commercial... It's not on YouTube, but somewhere late in the second half, we got to enjoy what was quite possibly the most surreal commercial of all time. Like a Saturday Night Live Valentines Day spoof, but totally real. This isn't the exact ad, but it's the same company, and I couldn't not include it in this recap:
Is this what college basketball is like these days? I haven't gotten to follow college hoops as much as I'd like this year, so maybe Vandy-Florida was an exception, not the rule. But for a pair of Top 25 teams, they sure seemed pretty hopeless. Chandler Parsons is decent for Florida, Kenny Boynton is okay, too, and Vandy has Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins, both of whom are solid. But beyond that, the talent was really, really, painfully average. Like, "avert your eyes because we should all be embarrassed" average. Florida and Vandy shot 37 percent and 38 percent, including a ghastly 12-for-42 from three-point range. If I wanted to watch basketball like that, I'd gain 130 pounds and move to Cleveland. One game, I know. But still.
is the most hilarious player in college basketball. You know the guys you play pickup with that think they're about five times better than they are? The guy that thinks he's Allen Iverson, but shoots like Dajuan Wagner? You know the type. And Erving Walker is SO that guy.
Florida had a chance to win on the last possession of regulation, and Walker, a junior point guard from Brooklyn, waived off Florida's best player (Parsons), and then held the ball at the top of the key for another ten seconds before launching an NBA three that (obviously) clanked off the rim. I swear to God, he did this 10 different times last night. Which makes this post-game article, declaring that Florida is now Erving Walker's team, even more surreal:
When a pair of free throws by John Jenkins tied the game with 23 seconds left in regulation, Florida again turned to Walker. Holding the ball for the last shot, Walker drove right, pulled up and missed a potential game-winner off the back rim. If he makes that shot, Walker receives the same attention Parsons did a year ago when his buzzer-beating three-pointers against N.C. State and South Carolina earned him a recurring role on SportsCenter.
But Walker didn’t make it, and he isn’t a candidate for Dickie V’s all-onions team.
For whatever reason, some would brand Walker a ball hog. But he’s not. Every team needs one player willing to step up at the end of games.
I'm not saying he can't improve, but Walker was 1-for-6 from three-point range, and watching him kill possession after possession, he became the most unintentionally hilarious part of an already hilarious game. So good luck with that, Florida! (But hey, he had that buzzer beater!)
Finally, there was overtime. It all hinged on (you guessed it!) a missed three pointer, and Dick Vitale went absolutely nuts over the lack of a foul call. There was contact, sure. But it wasn't nearly as obvious as Vitale made it sound when he said, "The refs know they got it wrong." But then, this was sort of the perfect way for things to end. A little controversy, Vitale getting spirited for completely misguided reasons, and Florida icing things with free throws.
That's not necessarily college basketball, in general, but it's definitely college basketball at its worst. So, in other words, it's SEC hoops (Kentucky notwithstanding). But hey! At least now we know to pick against Florida and Vandy if they make it to March in 2011.