CHICAGO -- Whenever I am standing in a long line at a bank, holding a check and a deposit slip in a limp right hand attached to a limp right arm, my mind wanders. I know the others in line are experiencing the same in-between feeling too, that it's a state we share. These days, most people occupy themselves during the wait by looking at their phones, checking their messages and playing games. I know they're probably not thinking what I'm thinking. I'm considering the frighteningly tiny distance between the present and a crazy idea that would ruin my life forever.
In that specific context, I've calculated the timeframe to be 10 seconds. All I'd have to do is put my left hand in my left coat pocket, break out of line, and announce that I have a gun. That would do it. I'd be tackled by the security guard, arrested, taken into custody, my mugshot would be on the 6 o'clock news, and I would be an instant disgrace and a punchline. Those 10 seconds would define my life until it was over. I'd lose all my friends, a good chunk of my family too, and all of my career credibility. I'd be the batshit crazy guy from then on. When I finished serving my prison sentence, of course.
That's fascinating to me, though... that as a free agent, I have an incalculable number of actions to choose from at any given moment, and that's just one of them. The "fake holdup for absolutely no reason" option is available to every single person who finds themselves standing in line at a bank, not just me, and it's available whether it crosses one's mind or not. So as with the "fake bomb scare at the airport." I'd estimate the self-destruction timeframe on that to be two seconds, or perhaps less than that.
Ideas flash through our minds all the time, a thousand a minute. The majority of us are cultured and educated and big-picture enough to instantly tell the difference between which ones whose execution would be acceptable and which ones not to think about for more than a split-second. Each action alters our lives, like changed digits in a macro-laden spreadsheet. The ideas we decide to act on tend to be smaller ones that have to do with smaller things: what to spend our money on, what food to put in our mouths, how to while away the very immediate future and with whom. Most of today's actions will not have any impact beyond today. Ideas with roots that stretch into tomorrow, next week and future months and years get scarier and scarier, the bigger and longer they get. Some ideas just aren't easily reversible.
January tends to be a month of larger ideas. I'm not talking about "resolutions," which are all pretty much broken by now; there's less fear in the earlier months, more sober silence within which to ponder. For instance, this is the time of year when many 18-year-olds make their final choices about which college to attend. I made my own decision in a January. Looking back, I've acted on a lot of January ideas I might not have acted on in December. In 2004, on a mid-week January evening in Philadelphia's Palestra, in the middle of a blowout basketball game, I thought about how neat it would be to start a website about just mid-major hoops.
God, that would be neat.
I acted on that one. Seven years later, it hasn't changed the world, and it was never supposed to, but it spun my life in directions I couldn't have even guessed at, and shifted the event matrix for others as well. If I hadn't followed through, I wouldn't be sitting typing at a Starbucks on the north side of Chicago right now. I have no idea what I'd be doing. Maybe I'd be standing in line at a bank, back in Philadelphia.
This is the season of ideas, readers and friends. It's the time of free will, which is slightly different than freedom. January is a month of moving forward, shifting direction, tilting a few degrees into different orbits. Whether it's getting serious about this writing thing, getting up the confidence to define oneself as a "basketball player," or whatever, be careful with your ideas. They make things different.
Conference USA: The race hasn't truly hit stride (UAB's in "first" at 1-0 after that 3OT win over UTEP), but most of the league was on the courts last night. In actual first place-style action, UTEP was powered by 26 by reigning MMBOW Randy Culpepper to hold off Tulane in New Orleans by a 69-58 count; both teams are now 2-1, and the Green Wave lost at home for the first time in the first nine games of the Ed Conroy era. Slightly to the west, Southern Miss was pushed to overtime by the superhooping power of Rice's Connor Frizelle, but the Golden Eagles took control in the final minute of the third half to win 81-78. By losing, the Owls became the only C-USA team with a negative overall record. And what's this? Excepted Memphis lost to SMU, 64-58. The Mustangs, who were constant and continuous RLU punching bags when the league was on the other side of the Line, have the country's 14th-weakest schedule and haven't won more than 14 games in the Matt Doherty era. (Which, some may be surprised to know, is still active.) What in holy hell is wrong with Memphis? Send us your best takes, via FedEx of course!
UPDATE: No, no, no, no, we weren't serious, no.
Missouri Valley: Missouri State (14-3, 6-0) maintained their small stranglehold on the MVC with a 13-point win over Southern Illinois that was Scheer madness! Even though freshman Nathan managed just five points and the Bears offense only broke free at the end, it was the eighth straight win for Cuonzo Martin's senior-laden team and the 18th consecutive home win at sparkling JQH Arena. The 5-1, second-place peloton kept pace. Wichita State won at Creighton 68-54, which is notable because the Shockers haven't won there since 199-freaking-2. The Tree Fever of Indiana State hadn't won at Bradley in 12 tries, but they dispatched the Braves 59-53. Nothing is what it was, and nothing is what it seems. (#BizarroValley2? #ElectricSycaroo?) Central Illinois has turned into the Valley's black hole; downstate rivals Bradley and Illinois State are both 0-6.
Sun Belt: While the local and national media fixates on Carmelo Anthony's latest spoiled-bitch tantrum, there's a basketball team in Denver that's undefeated! In conference play, at least. After racking up nine losses in non-conference, the Princeton-inspired Pioneers have the Belt's most efficient offense (1.11 points per trip), are shooting almost 61 percent from the inside the arc despite topping out at 6-foot-9, and they've passed the first Central Time Zone test (Western Kentucky and Monroe) with a flying color or two. It's their best league start since the Yemi Nicholson days. The league's power center has moved to Florida, though. The Isiah Lord Thomases at FIU and Mike Jarvises at FAU are both unbeaten in the East division. International will likely get that designation snatched tonight out at North Texas, though. The Mean Green (13-2, 2-1) haven't played a conference game since last Wednesday's loss at MTSU, and they're, well, angry.
Southern: The odd early wreckaround shakeout in the SoCon is deserving of its own 2,000-word analysis, but you have an overall 8-8 team in first place (Chattanooga), a 7-9 champion and heavy favorite (Wofford), and potentially one of the worst teams in league history (0-15 UNCG). What is this, the SWAC? This league took an absolute pounding in non-conference play, with a .336 win percentage and five RLU's. Charleston is far and away the top team here, the only undefeated at 4-0, and the SoCon's only hope for a decent NCAA seed number. And everybody knows the name Goudelock! A possible Monday interdivisional first-place battle looms between the Cougars and Mocs; from this distance, it looks more like a blowdown than a throwdown/showdown.
Utah State at Boise State (Western Athletic) Taco Bell Arena - Boise, ID 10:15 EST
Now that the hubbub about Duke's historical undefeated season is over, perhaps some of the folks in Sportzbro Ditto Nation will shift their focus to a different sort of zero-loss mystery: will Utah State run the table in the Western Athletic Conference and get a decent NCAA seed? The Blue Aggies (14-2, 3-0) are in their annual pattern of putting up ridiculous stats against a weak schedule (SOS: 233). Depending on what day it is and which version you're looking at, their only two losses are against the very tippy-top of the RPI (BYU and Georgetown). And their average RPI win is 218, so seriously, how good are these guys? The rest of the league may not be able to provide many answers; in recent years, teams used to knock around Big West and WCC squads, but in 2010-11 the league struggled to break even in non-conference (54-47). Every year, we ask "what's wrong with the WAC?" and each year the answer is different. No need to overnight those.
So here's Boise State, a somewhat unexpected 4-0 after sweeping the far western swing at San Jose State and Hawaii. With four senior starters, a trip like that gets easier, I suppose. But before all that, they were 8-5 in non-conference against the 298th strongest schedule in the country. While the Bronco guards don't cough up the ball that much (they've won the turnover battle in 15 of 16 games), their superhoop defense has been atrocious, allowing 40 percent. Might USU senior guard Brian Green, who's made 38 of 86 of them this season, take advantage of this? Magic WAC Ball says yes.