This Is Our Year… Unless It Isn’t

I remember 1998 like the back of my hand (why no one remembers the front of their hand, I have no idea). It was the year Tubby Smith took the helm of the Wildcats from the then beloved Rick Pitino and led the “Comeback Cats” to a title in his first season in Lexington.

I was 15 at the time and had just went through my parents’ divorce. Despite the fact that their split probably saved both their lives, it was a traumatic experience for a kid already dealing with the awkwardness of Freshman year. Like Alanis, I needed something to cling to.

Enter the aforementioned Wildcats.

That's called peaking too early, ladies and gents.

The 1998 team was far from dominant. In fact, they had a knack for falling behind early and coming back to win late, hence the “Comeback Cats” moniker (we’re pretty literal here). Anyway, something about that team’s run to the title absorbed my attention as sports had never done before. I found myself living and dying, screaming and crying with every made or missed shot. All of it culminated in the happiest ending of all, a National Championship. Little did I know, but my UK fan experience had peaked already.

It’s been 14 years since the Kentucky Wildcats last won an NCAA title. In a fanbase like UK’s, those might as well be dog years.

Over these long years, the passion and expectation my glorious first experience with the Wildcats generated has never dwindled. I’ve spent 14 years living and dying with every shot, as each year ended with a tournament loss including one in the NIT.

This, on the other hand, is called premature celebration.

With each passing season, my disappointment and subsequent rage has grown stronger and more pathetic. I’ve screamed at Rajon Rondo. I’ve murdered Billy Gillispie in my mind.  I’ve broken a remote (or two or seven) over falters and failures that have all culminated in this… Our year.

With the Wildcats in the title game for the first time since I was 15, this has to be the year they close the deal.

Unlike those come-from-behind Cats (I’m just sick of typing it), this year’s UK team has been a spectacle of dominance. With a roster stacked with NBA players and the Player of the Year in Anthony Davis, Kentucky has spent the better part of the year ranked #1 in the country. A title for this team isn’t just possible, it’s expected.

As the day of the title game has finally arrived, the usual combination of dread and excitement is coursing through my blood stream. All the talking heads are picking us to win. Vegas has the Cats favored by 6.5 over a team they’ve beaten once already. People are openly discussing whether this is one of the greatest teams of all time.

All this on our side, and I still won’t believe it until I see it. 14 years is a long time for a young(ish) adult to live with yearly disappointment. It won’t be over until it’s over.

If I step outside myself, I have to think that Kentucky beats Kansas tonight. I have to think that this is their year.

Then I hear that familiar voice of caution chasten me, “Unless it isn’t.”

 

Kansas Jayhawks Will Not Be Playing Connecticut on an Aircraft Carrier; Focused on Deal With the U.S. Air Force

LAWRENCE, KS – Officials at the University of Kansas have killed the rumor that the Jayhawks would be playing a basketball game on an aircraft carrier against the UConn Huskies in 2012.  Connecticut officials are still looking to find an opponent for the 2nd Carrier Classic.

The 2011 edition of the Classic featuring Michigan State and North Carolina, has been a long discussed possibility that finally became reality this summer.

The college basketball world is understandably thrilled about the upcoming spectacle and all that maritime-based basketball could mean for the future of the sport.  So, why would KU not want to participate in such a special event?

“We just don’t feel it’s right for us to commit to the Carrier Classic at this time when we have other deals in the works,” Kansas Athletic Director, Sheahon Zenger said in an interview.  When asked to which other deals he was referring, he smiled coyly and said “I believe you know the answer to that.”

Indeed, buzz has been hot about the possibility of the Jayhawks starting their own classic series…on the wings of a modified C-17 cargo jet.

Aerial Allen Fieldhouse?

Details are still fuzzy, but it is believed that a custom-made court will be affixed to the top of the wing span of the military grade transport aircraft.

NCAA officials work to secure a prototype basket on a C-17 at Edwards AFB in California

The game would then be played while the jet ran low-altitude maneuvers over the Nevada desert.  Zenger hopes to have an opponent announced by next spring.

“It’s an exciting time for college basketball and American military vehicles, ” Zenger said. “Who knows what kind of possibilities for sport/war machine partnership are out there?”

Only time will tell if he is right.

 

One Way Street – NCAA Bracket Predictions

As my esteemed colleagues have done since the NCAA unveiled its bracket for the annual tournament championship, I too will be offering predictions. I’m guessing that’s all the introduction you need so let’s roll out the predictions.

One Way Street: I lecture, you take notes

East

There’s not much else to be said here that hasn’t been previously stated: Ohio State was awarded for being the best team all season with a killer bracket. North Carolina, Syracuse, and Kentucky are all formidable top 4 seeds, and tOSU’s potential second round match-up with all-time Cinderella George Mason ensures the Buckeyes will earn every game this March.

Potential Sleeper: Xavier. The Musketeers enjoyed a quiet season on the national scale, but do not mistake the silence. Xavier could pull an upset in the early rounds; in fact I’ve predicted them to defeat Syracuse in the Round of 32 in my bracket (for whatever that’s worth; i.e. not much).

Jared Sullinger

Player to watch: Jared Sullinger. tOSU’s all-world forward delivers Dyke-ism’s favorite tough twos. Quite simply, he’s a helluva player and the stronger he plays down low the more open (and more dangerous) the Buckeye offense becomes.

Winner: Ohio State. The Buckeyes have senior leadership, a good balance of talent, and one of the best players in the country in Jared Sullinger.

West

The West bracket is also balanced this season, though not quite at the level of the East. Duke, as the one seed, will be the favorite to escape, but San Diego State, UCONN, and Texas form a challenging top four seeds. But Arizona as a five, Cincinnati as a six, and Temple as a seven seed all poise serious threats who can make deep runs.

Potential Sleeper: Missouri. The Tigers are an eleven seed thanks to their woeful road record and struggles inside the conference. But what makes Missouri dangerous is Mike Anderson’s Forty Minutes of Hell style of play. The Tigers like to press and run teams to death. The system also produces turnovers and turnovers are a death nail in March.

Player to Watch: Kemba Walker. UCONN’s All-American showed up early in November with magical performances in Maui, and after a small stumble during the mid-season, Walker turned it on as the Huskies won five games in five days to capture the Big East tournament championship. UCONN goes as Kemba goes, and if a game is on the line in the waning seconds, he’s money.

Kemba Walker

Winner: Arizona. I’m taking an upset in this bracket. The Wildcats have the second best player to watch (and possible #1 NBA draft pick) in forward Derrick Williams. Williams poses a match-up problem for any team, and Arizona’s guards are just good enough to keep the Wildcats in ballgames. I think Williams is the deciding factor in a Sweet Sixteen match-up with Duke with propels Arizona onto the Final Four.

Southwest

Labeled as the third strongest bracket (of four), the Southwest boasts one of the strongest teams throughout the season in the Kansas Jayhawks. The other top seeds include Notre Dame, Purdue, and Louisville; all strong teams. The Morris twins lead Kansas as they attempt to wipe away memories of an early exit last season. The other top seeds all share an interesting similarity: small preseason expectations. Notre Dame was not projected to finish as high or as strong in the Big East after losing Luke Harangody. Louisville faced similar preseason expectations as it waited on a heralded 2011 recruiting class to arrive on campus. Purdue was a Final Four contender in August until Robbie Hummel tore his ACL again which accordingly dampened expectations.

Potential Sleeper: Georgetown. A six seed isn’t much of a sleeper, but the Hoyas struggled late in the season when guard Chris Wright broke his hand. Before his injury, Georgetown was rolling towards the top of the Big East standings. His return will provide help for teammate Austin Freeman. Then again, the Hoyas could be out in the first round like last season.

Player to Watch: Marcus Morris. The better of the Morris twins, brother Marcus has expanded his game from the smooth inside

Marcus Morris

hook shots to include the ability to knock down the three pointer in Bill Self’s high-low offense. Morris, often accused as dirty, provides the gritty toughness to succeed in March.

Winner: Notre Dame. I love the make-up of the Irish. They have experience across the board, and Ben Hansbrough has shown the ability to make tough baskets when the team needs a lift. The only thing that scares me is coach Mike Brey’s less-than-stellar record in the NCAA tournament, but the team plays good enough defense to survive.

Southeast

The weakest region of the tournament displays proverbial choke-artists, Pittsburgh. The Panthers last reached a Final Four when the tournament included eight teams. Some credit is due as the Panthers have maintained a good record and resume despite high preseason expectations, but in a season in which no team is truly dominate, Pittsburgh looks vulnerable. Meanwhile in this bracket, SEC regular season champs Florida were gifted a two seed while the Davies-less Cougars of BYU are the three seed and Wisconsin is the four. This bracket is perhaps the most wide-open of them all.

Potential Sleeper: BYU. I know what you’re thinking: How can a three seed be a sleeper? Technically, they cannot. But after BYU dismissed forward Brandon Davies for violation of the university’s honor code, the Cougars have looked beatable to the point where the national media has lost hope in them. However, they still have Jimmer Fredette, an electric scoring machine. Guard play in March can be a difference maker, and Fredette’s ability to light up the scoreboard is critical.

Player to Watch: Jimmer Fredette. The Cougar guard, as I just stated, is a scoring machine. Fredette has the ability to perform like Stephen Curry did in 2008 riding his success to a top NBA draft pick. Leave him open at your own peril.

The Jimmer

Winner: Florida. Even though the Gators were probably a seed too high, they’re still a good team. The lower half of the bracket is a little weaker than the top half, and I think SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parson spurs Florida into a Final Four for the first time since 2007.

Final Four

In one semi-final, we have Ohio State versus Arizona while the opposite side features Notre Dame versus Florida.

Ohio State defeats Arizona in a battle of future NBA forwards Sullinger and Williams. The Buckeyes’ balance is enough to put them over the top. In the other semi-final, Notre Dame continues their good form with a win over the Gators. Ben Hansbrough and the rest of the experienced roster put the Irish over the top late.

In the finals, Ohio State’s dream season comes to an end just like 2007. Notre Dame rides the wave of success to a somewhat improbable National Championship.

Why I Like Duke

In an effort to counter all of the unwarranted and patently biased hatred spewed from these pages toward Duke University’s basketball program recently, I have taken it upon myself to be the lone voice of reason.

I like Duke.

Honestly, I’ve liked Duke for a very long time.

I grew up in Kansas and have been a Jayhawk fan for as long as I can remember. But, when I was 15 and saw the Blue Devils dismiss my beloved Jayhawks in the National Championship game…a new-found respect forced its way into my psyche whether I wanted it to or not. I watched in awe as Christian Laettner and company handed Roy Williams’ scrappy team yet another second-best finish.

It felt funny to me. But, even at a young age, I couldn’t deny the fact that I knew I was watching greatness unfold before me.

That ’91 Duke team was the beginning of a wild and iconic ride for all of college basketball. Of course, they went on to win it all again in ’92. And that was just the beginning.  In the two decades since, Duke has shown us all what it means to be truly great.

Since, the early ’90′s, Duke has blessed us all with wave after wave of players with, not only, great talent, but also exceptional character. Of course, there have been some less-than-perfect examples from time to time, but overall, name one program that has exuded such class, as consistently, as the Duke Blue Devils. You can’t.  Any program in the country would kill to have the type of role-models Duke has had.

But, of course, this is a sports blog and we are not here to talk about character and class.   We’re here to talk about the game.  And, there is no better representation of all the great things about today’s game than Duke.  Coach Krzyzewski knows how to get the best out of his players and we get to benefit from that.  Duke teams are consistently among the top squads year in and year out.  They play an exciting style that appeals to all ages and demographics.   There, quite simply, is nothing better than watching Duke play it’s “A” game in front of 9,000 adoring fans.

And speaking of the fans, one cannot talk about the phenomenon of Duke basketball without mentioning the Cameron Crazies.  There is no more dedicated, knowledgeable or committed fan base in all of college basketball.  In fact, I would argue that they rank right up there with the likes of Yankees, Patriots and Eagles fans as some of the best in all of sports.  Whether they are taunting opposing players or camping out in a tent in “Krzyzewskiville,” NO fans come close to being as loyal and attached to the University itself as the Dukies.  Sure, they get a bad rap from time to time, but with popularity comes criticism.  The media outlets (like this one)  would love nothing more than to see Duke fail.

But, we, the fans, know better.  College basketball needs Duke.

Fortunately for us, they’re going to be around for a long, long time.

Go Duke!

NCAA announces 2028 Final Four location

In an unprecedented move by the NCAA, the location of the 2028 Final Four was announced yesterday, eighteen years in advance. The move came after the overall number one Kansas Jayhawks were eliminated from the 2010 version of the tournament. The higher-ups in the organization failed to offer an explanation for the move, but a source with knowledge spoke to EJSIC anonymously.

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“Interim President James Isch wants to protect the top seeds as much as possible. That’s why we’re going to 96 teams next year. He didn’t like to see Kansas going home in the second round. It’s part of a long term vision. The Jayhawks are a big part of our tradition going back to Naismith and Phog Allen, and we don’t need them being upset. It’s bad for business.”

“The Kansas program has proven to be cyclical. They win championships every twentieth year: 1988, 2008, and, logically, 2028. We definitely don’t want people to think that season is already fixed, but we’re trying to optimize profits. By announcing the site yesterday, we feel it gives the Jayhawk faithful plenty of time to book hotels, take vacation time from work, etc.”

“Kansas City in 2028 is going to be Rock Chalk city. We’ve got some big plans to go along with it as well. We’ll bring in Roy Williams and let him wear a sticker for the Jayhawks, Tarheels, and Wildcats. We’ll probably have Larry Brown come in if he’s still alive. Some other things I can’t talk about right now…”

Obviously worried about revealing too much, he then abruptly hung up.

This new information bodes well for the Kansas fan base, decimated by heartbreak this past weekend. Unfortunately, this could also mean more heartbreak over the next eighteen years as Rock Chalk tries to break out of a vicious cycle akin to the Hindu prophecies. Fear not, Jayhawks. 2028 is your year.