AKRON, Oh. -- There are so few of us... we who overanalyze everything about college basketball, pore over pages of stats, treat our game like a gigantic 341-piece puzzle that takes five months to solve itself. Our vision is distorted because we spend so much time talking to each other; we forget that we make up a minor sliver of the greater pie.
Most college basketball fans -- I'd guess at least 95 percent -- experience the sport in a much different way than we do, microcosm instead of macro. They love their old school, cheer it on, forsake all others. They fly the team colors, convince themselves that opposing players and students are somehow less human than they are, and they long to hear validations and confirmations from national voices that their team is the best.
These people are the ones who make arenas loud. People like us easily forget that, because we're generally not the type of people who yell a lot. College hoops is built on knee-jerk reactions, ridiculous logic, overwhelming emotions and, yes, yelling.
And that right there is why Dick Vitale is the king of college basketball -- he represents each and every one of those people that makes up the overwhelming majority of the sport's fans. Dickie V is an easy target for geeks like us, and it's easy for us to dismiss his importance or reduce him to a silly cartoon instead of respect and recognize him for the national treasure he is. It's an absolute travesty that he's not in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and I won't visit there again until his plaque is installed on the great concave wall of glory in Springfield.
As you might have heard, the former head coach of Detroit-Mercy is recovering from recent throat surgery
, and won't announce games again until February. Even from a mid-centric POV, it's going to be strange flipping by ESPN on the dial and not hearing him say one of those those ridiculous dipsy-diaper slam-dandy things he says. Something will be missing from what is otherwise the best season ever, and we here at Mid-Majority HQ add our voices to the chorus, wishing The King a speedy recovery. Fruit tea, and lots of it.
A quick story: soon after I got home from the 2006 Final Four, I pulled a frozen pizza out of the fridge. Dickie V was on the front of the package, holding a basketball, and there were details of a contest on the back. The grand prize (odds of winning: 1 in 2,000,000) was a trip to the Final Four, a tour of ESPN's studios, a couple thousand in spending money, and a meeting with the man himself. I realized at that moment that I'd done all those things -- I'd covered George Mason for ESPN.com, been paid for it, and I'd shaken the man's hand in an elevator at the mobile SportsCenter studio. I knew then that I, and not Dick, was the luckiest man on earth.
But I knew he wasn't not one of us geeks, because he didn't know who in the hell I was. South Carolina-Upstate.
After a bunch of early nationally-recognized upsets, the Atlantic Sun has calmed down considerably, slumping to a league RPI of 30 and a 30-80 nonconference record. Unfortunately, the Gardner-Webb win over Kentucky only counted as one.
But the A-Sun still has a little magic left in it, thanks to one of its newest members. Last night in Dallas, the Spartans of USC-U (formerly known by the much less directionally vague name USC-Spartansburg) won its first-ever Division I game, a 58-56 road thriller at Southern Methodist
. Nick Schnieders
, the guy who dunked on Kyle Hines
, had 13 rebounds, and Mezie Uzochukwu hit the game-winning free throws with a second to go.
SMU has already provided thrills for two SWAC schools (Alabama State and Southern) and Centenary, and are a very bad basketball team. But this is as good a time as any for a reminder why Conference USA is not a mid-major conference by any stretch of the imagination, and why we enjoy wins over teams from the two money leagues (the Mountain West being the other) so much. The average athletic budget in C-USA is $23 million, nearly double that of conferences like the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and even the WAC. SMU, for its part, spends over $32 million on athletics, $3m of which is spent on its men's basketball team.
So what I'm saying is that if $3 million can't buy you a win over South Carolina-Upstate, then you might as well close up basketball operations and invest it all in a mortgage lender. Mount St. Mary's.
In our game last night, the NEC's Mountaineers used surprising size and torrid three-shooting to take out visiting Winthrop (yes, that
. You may remember MSM from trivia questions about the smallest school in Division I, or some cheap ironic joke about their acronym being the same as that of "mainstream media," or maybe even from their 21-8 record in 1996-97, the last time they were any good.
But this is a very decent team. The Mountaineers have three double-figure scoring guards, and have an inside presence they haven't had in ages -- Marcus Mitchell
and Sam Atupem
showed themselves last night to be very adept at slipping behind zones for easy layups.
"Our cupboard is no longer bare," said head coach Milan Brown afterwards.
After an 0-4 start, the Mount's now won six in a row, including its first two league games against Long Island and CCSU. Who knows? They might even challenge for a high seed in the Northeast Conference this season.
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