CHICAGO -- American higher learning dates back to before the whole "United States" thing. But until the Civil War was over, no college had a fight song. That idea coincided with the idea of college athletics, and school-specific tunes were written for the purposes of intimidation and inspiration. Many of them contain scenes of battle and hard-earned glory, and they were sung repeatedly at games, after the bands struck up. But the early ones certainly weren't written with Our Game in mind; fight songs were intended to be football songs, engineered for cold outdoor stadiums. Indeed, the first fight song predates the birth of basketball by six years.
As the practice became more widespread, things got personal. Since brother and brother weren't fighting to the death anymore over governing style, the nation was free to project those feelings on guys in helmets. Harvard's primary fight song, "Ten Thousand Men of Harvard," contains references to the desire to beat primary rival Yale on the gridiron.
Then there's this, from the oldest college sports rivalry of all, the alternate version of "Old Lafayette."
Dig Lehigh's grave both wide and deep, wide and deep.
Put tombstones at her head and feet, head and feet,
And from each sweater take away the "L,"
Which Lafayette alone guards we.
Yikes! American-Style Football was the dominant college sport for most of the 20th Century, to the point that it was pretty much the only college sport. Basketball in general was an Eastern city game, a Midwestern game and a West Coast curiosity, something to watch in the winter to kill time until spring. But in the 1970s, when things like UCLA and the Bird-Magic game happened, hoops went national. It needed different music, indoors music, music for dancing.
There's no denying the importance of Nils Lofgren's 1978 "Bullets Fever" within the genre of basketball rock. It attempted to capture the joyful, proud feeling that comes with watching NBA basketball (they play their hearts out!), one that disappeared in the three ensuing decades. Its influence spread to the college ranks. Little UNLV, playing against tiny California schools, inspired George Dare's 1983 piece "Runnin' Rebel Fever." The Rebs went on to become National Championship caliber on behalf of the Big West, then jump the Red Line to the MVC, but this was a real landmark.
(Even if the locals weren't properly appreciative years later.)
At the same time, there was no denying the rise of a gritty new sound coming from the streets. Hip-hop captured the rhythm of basketball itself, and Kurtis Blow distilled the game's excitement, intrigue and awesomeness into 1984's "Basketball." It was notable for its name-checking of nearly every star from that era and those before (Tell me, were you in the joint/The night Wilt scored 100 points). It was a four-minute history lesson, and that's how my generation learned.
Until recently, college basketball teams and fans had to borrow rap songs. For instance, George Mason 2006 used "Kryptonite (I'm On It)" by the Purple Ribbon All-Stars as a theme song. The green-clad Patriots were "kryptonite" to power-conference teams and got very "high" at the NCAA Tournament, but this song was clearly about drugs, limiting its effectiveness as a community rallying cry.
Nowadays, you don't have to be whoever those guys were to make your own smac rap. We have the internet now, and YouTube, and software that makes beats. We all know about "Too Big Yo," but this here was a hidden gem from the 2010 Butler run by R-Dizzle. It's got all the elements passed down from Nils Lofgren and Kurtis Blow: pride, braggadocio, trash talk, and a lot of name-checking.
The gauntlet for mid-major smac rap in 2011 has already been thrown down... in January. Inspired by Mistah FAB's "All About the G," here are Sally S Baby, Keyz and Shugz, performing "Gaels Gone Wild" in honor of Saint Mary's College.
SMC lost by 19 out at Vanderbilt in a non-conference game on Saturday, but no SEC team has a better song than this. And over the next two months, more celebratory music will be created and released on the Internet by proud fans of mid-major colleges. Who's next? I know Belmont has a strong music department, we need to hear from them.
Horizon League: Wisconsin has always been above Illinois and Indiana from a geographical standpoint, but the state chose Sunday to exert a kind of weird sports power over its immediate southern neighbors. Front-running Valparaiso was taken down at home by Green Bay Valpo was suffering some injury problems, most specifically to star shooter Brandon Wood. Meanwhile, down south, gutsy Milwaukee -- a .500 team's .500 team this year -- completed a home-and-home sweep over national runners-up Butler with an 86-80 overtime win. Matt Howard was relied on heavily this weekend (29 points and 16 rebounds in Friday's 81-75 win over Green Bay); against the Panthers, he had 18 and 10, but he wasn't around for the end, having fouled out. That ended Butler's 15-game Horizon League home win streak, marked the first time the Bulldogs have been swept by a conference opponent since 2005, and left the Bulldogs looking for answers.
Colonial: Fact: the CAA season can't truly begin until Old Dominion and VCU play each other. And so it happened, and so it shall be. It's a series with so much fan passion that the visitors rarely gets away with a win (14 of previous 19 were won by the home team), but the Rams pulled away late to beat ODU 59-50 on Saturday to stay tied for first with Hofstra. The Pride (a/k/a the Charles Jenkins Experience) had to come from behind to beat struggling William & Mary on the road 67-64, but that was another signal that the Colonial's traditional center is glowing and gaining force. George Mason, on and off the radar all year, has won four straight since their Hofstra-ODU road debacle earlier this month. They dropped JMU in Harrisonburg on Saturday morning 75-73, behind senior leader Cam Long's 30 points.
Missouri Valley: The pattern we're trying to go for is to shootaround the borderline two-bid conferences on Mondays, because these races have the most riding on them. And the borderline, admittedly, is a vague and perhaps even distant one, as the Atlantic 14 and Conference USA are the only leagues in our corner with solid multi-bid credentials, and most of the others would require star alignment. That's certainly the case in the MVC, where Missouri State (36 RPI) and Wichita State (47 RPI) would have to beat everyone else and lose only to each other in order for there to be any shot whatsoever.
Messing up that perfect picture has been Indiana State, a team that's been surprisingly tough on Valleyfolk after opening the season with losses to Loyola, Eastern Kentucky and Ball State. And the Sycamores hung with Wichita at the Roundhouse for two overtime rounds before falling away in the third and losing 93-83. Still, a classic. But your hottest team right now is Northern Iowa, winners of five straight after a slow start. Their true gauntlet will be the trip to Springfield to play Mo-State next Sunday.
West Coast: While Saint Mary's was losing to Vanderbilt out in Tennessee, all heck was breaking loose out on the coast. Gonzaga, who we tend to talk to only in reverential and referential terms, had its own lost weekend in California, losing at Santa Clara and San Francisco. We are entering a territory of potential mind-blowing ramifications: the Zags have lost two league games, as many as they lost all last season, and their seven overall drops also ties last year's total. They are 1-4 on the road, and have a lower RPI than Portland. An NCAA Tournament without Gonzaga is like... well, it wouldn't seem like the NCAA Tournament. But if Mark Few's team misses out somehow, it will be interesting to see how those in the Sports-Industrial Complex reacts. Will they simply move on to the next Cinderella en masse and forget, or cover the program with the same comeback narrative that's afforded ACC and Big East teams that have bad years?
We've been talking about this guy a lot this year, but there was really nobody else who put in the kind of week that Mr. Benson did. So we're talking about him again. Oakland's senior 6-foot-11 Badlands manimal took over the Upper Midwest this past weekend, and so he's our ninth Mid-Majority Baller of the Week for Season 7.
We've never made the trip up to North Dakota State and South Dakota State, the newest wrinkle on the conference calendar for the Mid-Con/Summit/BLC. From talking to people who've done it, it sounds like it's the coldest place on earth and no place to take long bus trips during January. No. 34 in black apparently doesn't mind it, having recorded six straight double-doubles in the Dakotas. His final two went like this: At SDSU on Thursday, he scored 28 points on 12-for-17 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds (six offensive), and blocked three shots in a 97-88 G!O!T!N! win. Two days later, up at NDSU, he submitted 21 points on 8-for-15, took in 11 more boards, and made five blocks. That 83-76 G'Grizzlies win kept the team perfect this season, and it was Oakland's 17th consecutive league victory -- a record, no matter what you call this conference.
This website has given up speculating what NBA teams want anymore; having not witnessed a complete NBA game in several years, we can only hope to pretend to know. But with his solid performances this year against higher college competition in the non-conference portion, it wouldn't make any sense for pro teams not to spend a draft pick on him -- if there is a pro season next year, of course. Either way, this guy's getting paid. In the meantime, he's our MMBOW, and we'd give him a Hungry Howie's gift certificate if NCAA rules didn't prohibit that.
Game! Of! The! Night!
Furman at Wofford (Southern) Benjamin Johnson Arena - Spartanburg, SC 7:00 EST
The stars of the first third of this year's Southern Conference race were Chattanooga and Charleston. Both good teams. But the league champions from Wofford (10-9, 7-1) got lost in the shuffle, mostly because of their early non-conference troubles. Playing a toughen-up schedule heavy on Red Line teams, the Terriers were 3-8 out of the league with wins over George Mason, High Point and fellow Spartanburgers USC Upstate. Now this is a team that knows its place in the college basketball firmament, fully aware that the season begins when the calendar turns. And in 2011 they're 5-1 (with a single home loss to Charleston), and are just as 7-1 as the Cougars are. In the last week, Mike Young's team is showing some serious momentum: an 88-56 beatdown of North Division leaders Chatty in which star senior trio Jamar Diggs, Noah Dahlman and Cameron Rundles combined for 69 points on 27-for-35 shooting (77 percent -- not free throws, field goals), and an 81-43 job on Samford that featured 19 Terrier offensive rebounds on 30 missed shots. Who's next in the path of this locomotive?
That would be Furman, a program that is quietly rising in the SoCon. The Paladins haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1980, and last season, they won as many games as they had in the previous two (13). In 2010-11, they've already eclipsed that total in late January with a 14-5, 6-2 start. It's an extremely good three-point shooting team (a league-beat 43 percent in conference games), and can get physical with a phalanx of 6-foot-9 guys who've combined for a 55.6 percent available-rebound percentage this season (27th in D-I). Watch out for senior forward Amu Saaka, a 6-foot-6 former South Florida Bull who averages 16.9 ppg a game and dropped 30 on suddenly struggling Chattanooga on Saturday. The Terriers have won the last six of seven in this series, but a Furman win here would signal more than another standings shift in an increasingly topsy-turvy league; it would bring a burst of respect to a team that hasn't had any in a long time.