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The Scarlet & Black

Kramer sends entire school basketball update

By Kramer McLuckie

I’d like to begin this column by taking advantage of this platform to applaud the absurd chain of all-campus emails that began Thursday morning at 10:12 a.m. Registrar Services Assistant LuAnn Wheeler’s innocuous email about the end of the Add/Drop period has spawned 20 additional emails. (As of Thursday evening, I imagine there will be many more throughout the year.) Each one has been some combination of annoying and amusing, a metastasizing cancer of electronic hilarity delivered directly to every Grinnellian’s inbox.

The magnum opus of these prolific correspondents, in my estimation, was the video of a cat massaging a dog from, “courageously” ours, Ian Gold ’13/Clint Williamson ’13. That video blew my mind. The cat and the dog, as we all learned from the lewdly titled children’s film Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, are meant to be mortal enemies locked in eternal combat. Yet here were these two seemingly implacable foes sharing a tender moment. Watching that video gave me hope for other great rivals of history, like Blue Devils and Tar Heels or Jayhawks and Tigers.

Indeed, college basketball’s rivalry week is upon us. While I still haven’t seen any rival athletes adorably massaging each other on the court, stranger things have happened this season. Earlier this season Louisiana-Lafayette beat Western Kentucky in overtime with six players on the court for the final possession of the game. Western Kentucky fired its coach the next day due to the loss that probably shouldn’t have happened. The rivalry between Xavier and Cincinnati was taken to new heights with an in-game brawl started by Bearcats forward Yancy Gates and followed up by Musketeers guard Tu Holloway telling the press that his teammates are “gangsters,” but in a good way. Especially in a city with a major gun crime problem, it might be time for Xavier and Cincy to rename the “Crosstown Shootout” before somebody takes the rivalry’s name as a suggestion.

Now that the NCAA basketball season is well past its halfway point, it’s time to start giving college hoops the kind of close attention most college sports fans reserve for the gridiron. This season has been packed with drama that only the color and pageantry of college sports can provide: heated rivalries, emotional comebacks and buzzer beaters, all months before March. To catch up pigskin obsessives who are going through post-Super Bowl withdrawal, here’s a quick rundown of the season’s top stories so far.

Title Contenders Rise and Fall:

Pre-season polls are a lot of fun for year-round fans like me who like to speculate endlessly on how our teams will do, but they’re pretty useless for actually predicting who’s going be successful all year and make the NCAA Tournament. The pre-season poll has even less to do with who comes out on top in the NCAA Tournament. Even teams who are #1 in the AP Poll entering the tournament have only won it twice in the last 17 years (Duke in 2001 and North Carolina in 2009).

As usual, the voters got a lot wrong in the preseason AP Top 25. The UConn Huskies were ranked fourth overall thanks to the returning star power of SF Jeremy Lamb, G Shabazz Napier, C Alex Oriakhi and highly touted freshman big man Andre Drummond. Yet the Huskies are now at 9th place in the Big East at 15-8, having dropped games to Central Florida, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Tennessee. Now UConn sits squarely on the bubble. They will likely need to win all of their remaining games except one of their two match-ups with Syracuse to merit at-large consideration. I think Jim Calhoun will turn this team around, but don’t expect to see these Huskies making a tournament run like last year’s team. The Huskies could be the first defending champions to miss the Tournament since the 2009 North Carolina team.

The Pittsburgh Panthers were initially estimated to be the 10th best team in the nation on the strength of returning star guard Ashton Gibbs and key contributors Nasir Robinson and Tray Woodall. But the Panthers couldn’t deliver on the hype, dropping home games to Long Beach State, Wagner and Rutgers en route to a dismal 15-10 record and 11th place in the Big East.

On the other hand, my hometown Missouri Tigers barely sneaked into the preseason poll at number 25, but they’re now ranked at number four after impressive wins over California, Notre Dame, Illinois, Baylor, and Kansas. The Tigers’ recipe for this remarkable season under first year coach Frank Haith: speed and shooting. The Tigers’ scrappy, experienced four guard line-up has given opposing teams fits en route to a 22-2 record and first place in the Big 12. If the Tigers win out, including a tough contest against Kansas in Lawrence, they will be a number one seed. They could even drop the game in Lawrence and still win the Big 12 if the Jayhawks lose one of their remaining contests, including a trip to the Little Apple to face Kansas State. It would be nice to end Mizzou’s tenure in the Big 12 with a conference championship before joining the premier conference in college sports, the SEC.

The Michigan State Spartans were unranked in the preseason, relegated to the ignominious category of “Others receiving votes.” This season just goes to prove that you should never bet against a Tom Izzo team. The Spartans lost their first two games to Duke and UNC but followed with 15 wins in a row, including a drubbing of Florida State, a close win in The Kennel against Gonzaga, and wins over conference foes Indiana and Wisconsin. If the Spartans can win one of their two remaining contests against Ohio State, they will put themselves in good position for a deep run in March.

The Murray State Racers of Murray, Kentucky didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason poll, but the Racers have been the surprise of the season, currently sitting at seventh in the AP poll with a 23-0 record. Murray State isn’t getting much respect in the national press yet, but that could change after their marquee Bracket Busters match-up against St. Mary’s (CA) at home. If the Racers finish undefeated and win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, it will be difficult to argue they don’t deserve a #3 seed in March, if not a #2.

The preseason poll managed to capture what I believe to be the true top three teams within its top five, however. Kentucky, Ohio State, and Syracuse are the best teams in the country (not necessarily in that order). My favorite to take home the national title this year is John Calapari’s Wildcats squad. Boasting wins over Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, and Florida, the Wildcats are sitting pretty with a record of 24-1. Thanks to the play of fabulous freshmen C Anthony Davis, F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and G Marquis Teague, along with sophomore holdovers F Terrence Jones and G Duron Lamb, Kentucky has the all-new Fab Five 2012. There is simply too much talent and size on this roster for anyone else to match up with if the Wildcats are dialed in. All five starters will likely be playing in The League next year, but not before cutting down the nets in New Orleans on April 2.

Final Four Dark Horses:

Before I sign off for the week, I want to give a few short picks for teams that have the potential to reach the Final Four, even if they’re still somewhat unheralded. St. Mary’s (CA) is keyed by the play of Australian Matthew Dellavedova and local product Rob Jones. They have a lot of experience and are in the national top 50 in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, and field goal percentage. The St. Louis Billikens, led by senior F Brian Conklin, can be dangerous with their disciplined, slower style of play and tournament-tested coach, Rick Majerus. The Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV already boast a tournament-worthy upset with a win over North Carolina, but don’t overlook their wins over Illinois and California, too. Dominant sophomore big man Mike Moser makes the Rebs a difficult team to match up with. Wichita State is also experienced and big enough to compete with major conference foes. Creighton might have the best chance of any mid-major to make a deep run in March. The Blue Jays rank 10th nationally in points per game, second in assists per game, and first in field goal percentage. Star sophomore forward Doug McDermott of Ames, IA is a prime-time player, baby!

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