CHICAGO - The holiday season. What a putrid, disgusting thing it's become. Housewives maiming each other over "door-buster" sales, crappy holiday music, pointless religious debates over nomenclature, and all those Lifetime movies starring Valerie Bertinelli about the little town that found the true spirit of Christmas in an orphan's heart. It's almost enough to make you want the post-holiday depression to begin.
But then you see something like this
, so glorious and radiant and life-affirming, the 37th mid-major over major upset of the young season. A little basketball team from Indiana plows through a series of bloated, overrated power-conference squads, takes it all the way to New York City, and tops it all off by sinking its jaws into the Unnamed Major Program
for the prestigious and hallowed Preseason NIT Tip-Off Challenge Classic title. I shed a tiny tear, I really did.
But no, seriously, I hope all you great friends had a great Thanksgiving. Hopefully you got to catch some of those Old Spice Classic games from Orlando, like Marist and Southern Illinois' tag
job on Minnesota, or Missouri State taking out
Wisconsin, or Western Michigan over
Virginia Tech. Today should be Mid-Major Day at Disney World, half-price admission for anyone wearing a MVC, MAC or MAAC sweatshirt.
And now on to the electronic feedback bag.Kyle, about your picture on ESPN.com. You look psychotic. Why don't you change it?John F.
I've come around about that picture, ever since I saw what the production staff did to it. You see, when you submit a headshot to ESPN.com to sit near your byline, it's sent to a crack team of Photoshop wizards to squeeze it into a format they can use. What they don't tell you is that unless you're not one of the TV personalities, they apply various level adjustments and JPEG-stretching methods that make you look like you have a skin disease, and then they use the "Unabomber" option from the Filters menu. Yes, if they can somehow instill the impression that you kill for fun, all the better.
But no, I've given up sending them new pictures. I like the one that's up. I enjoy going to games and having people say, "Wow, Kyle, I was really nervous about meeting you because I thought you were a were-creature who was going to chew my eyes out. But you're just an ordinary guy." There's enough preening and posing and self-esteem issues in sports journalism... a little ugly is a good thing.
Because you see, friends, ESPN-TV is all about being pretty. Homie don't play that, so homie stays at .Com.I know you're supposed to have your finger on the pulse on the mid-majors, but you really missed the boat on Butler, dude. Bulldogs rule!Rich
Let's go back to early April, when I helped Andy Katz out with a pre-pre-pre season sidebar after the Final Four. "Five Mid-Majors Who Could Crack The Top 25 During The Season," it was called. Here was number three.
Butler -- The loss of the NCAA tournament's only all-senior starting five at Milwaukee means a vacuum in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs are best positioned to take advantage: they lose three seniors but the hot-shooting, undersized-but-skilled post players who remain may win the award for "2006-07 roster that looks most like George Mason 2005-06." With their conference runnerup status this season, Butler is back on the upswing towards the line of perennial 20-plus win seasons that ended abruptly in 2003.
In Butler's four-game run to the P-NIT title, they only shot better than 40% once: that nip-and-tuck opener
against Notre Dame, in which a furious rally right before halftime kept ND from using its superior size to pound the Bulldogs into submission. In each of the four games, they were outrebounded, and by a substantial margin (12) in the 60-55 decision
over Indiana that sent them to the Garden.
But the close-to-the-floor Dogs didn't turn it over: on aggregate, they had 26 fewer turnovers than their P-NIT opponents. And when they got fouled, they made you pay: 80% or better from the line, every time.
So the lesson is this: if you can keep control of the basketball, and not give it up, you'll get a chance to score points (whether in stop-time or on the floor), which in turn is a chance to win. That is why Butler's story is so awesome, and that's why our game is so great.
Plus, A.J. Graves is just as weird-looking as I am. How could I not latch my wagon to the bandwagon?