Rock stars want to be star athletes and star athletes want to be rock stars. It’s a universal truth that has been proven repeatedly. There’s a bond that exists between these high profile professions that pulls one towards the other like the Death Star forcefield captured the Millennium Falcon. Look no further than this piece from the Cauldron’s Jim Cavan on athletes turned musicians.
A College Basketball Season to Remember
What’s the common bond that historically causes this pairing? The strongest one is the similarity between sports, music, and life itself. There exists a natural beginning, end, and a roller coaster of emotions in the middle. Music, like sports, can illicit an internal response of one’s own childhood that is emotional and powerful. More often than not, this feeling is overwhelmingly positive, because happiness is the truly the greatest good.
There is no other sport that provides a better thrill ride than college basketball. The frenetic end of season March Madness hysteria is on par with the Super Bowl and World Cup in terms of the universal appeal to a myriad of fans. While the National Football League owns the annual television ratings crown, the amateurism of the college game provides an innocence that cannot be replicated.
This brings us to the 2016-2017 college basketball season. As we come to the midway point, it is clear fans across the country are about to be treated to one of the greatest overall college basketball seasons we have ever witnessed. The proof lies in four simple ingredients.
Part I: We Were Only Freshmen
In any sport, stars move the needle. Stars get people to watch games and make the fans wonder, “Why will happen next?” In the past decade the NFL and NBA have lived off of the coattails of the transcendent talents. In the NFL, it has been Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. For the NBA it has been LeBron James and Stephen Curry. For college basketball, it’s all about the freshmen.
When the NBA changed the draft entry age from 18 to 19, the “one and done” college basketball player was born. Most college programs looked to separate themselves from a potential “freshman for hire,” yet John Calipari (at the time in Memphis), embraced the opportunity and promoted his players as freshman stars. Since 2006, Calipari has coached over 22% of the one and done freshman that have been drafted. These neophytes have brought a swagger and appeal to the college game that was lacking for many seasons.
This season the freshman have made a profound impact. Calipari has two guarantee lottery picks in his Kentucky backcourt: Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Kentucky was ranked number one when they lost at home to UCLA, led by freshman Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has a trio of amazing freshman in Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Marques Bolden. The best freshman scorer in the entire country may be Washington’s Markelle Fultz. Lastly, long-time upperclassmen advocate, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, even joined the freshman party with the incredibly versatile Miles Bridges.
The freshmen are precocious and talented.
Part II: The Fortified Powerhouses
Parity is good. Too much parity is a virus.
Sports need champions. For a truly exciting season, college basketball needs the historically great teams to be great. Without their success, all we are often left with a collection of mediocrity. In 2016-2017, the college basketball powerhouses have returned in grand fashion. Kentucky, Duke, and UCLA all look the part of a Final Four team. Kansas lost this year to another big name school, Indiana. UCLA beat Kentucky, Kansas beat Duke, and Louisville gave Kentucky its second loss of the season. The aforementioned six teams represent 35 national championships. These teams are filled with great players, legendary coaches, and loyal fan bases. The sport is better when the top teams are stronger, and that has never been more true in recent years than this season.
Part III: They Might Be Giants
Some characters are only recognized with their adversary. Tom needs Jerry, the Tortoise needs the Hare, Goliath needs David, and the top teams need the mid majors. Already, the proverbial Giant Killers have reached into their bag, taken a stone and slung it. Northeastern has won at Michigan State, IPFW defeated Indiana, and St. John’s (who lost to 3-11 Delaware State) beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome by 33 points.
March Madness isn’t the same without the upsets. For this season to be as exciting as possible, the mid major teams need to provide Goliath a challenge. On New Years’ Eve, the top mid major of this season, the Creighton Blue Jays, gave the top ranked Villanova Wildcats all they could handle. Earlier this season, Arkansas State went on the road and defeated Georgetown 78-72. America loves the underdog, and this season has already shown that the mid-majors will provide challenges to the powerhouses all season long.
Part IV: The Fantastic Finishes
The great games are etched in our memory forever. The “cherry on top” of a truly remarkable NCAA college basketball season are the last second finishes that can be forever rehashed. The 2016-2017 has already produced some incredible endings.
Look no further than to legendary UCLA Bruins program, who suffered their only loss of the season at the hands of a Dillion Brooks’ three pointer at Oregon on December 29th. The Ducks 89-87 win knocked UCLA out of the No. 1 spot in the polls, and reestablished Oregon as a legitimate Final Four contender. That game, however, paled in comparison to the Kentucky Wildcats 103-100 win which featured a bevy of great shots down the stretch, especially Kentucky freshman Malik Monk’s 3 pointer to give the Wildcats the lead for good en route to a 47 point night.
More recently, Nevada pulled off on of the greatest comebacks you will ever see by erasing a 14 point deficit in the last 74 seconds on the road at New Mexico. There have been plenty of overtime games to provided thrills for fans across the country. The finishes have indeed been fantastic.
All of these ingredients come together for recipe for an amazing college basketball season. The stars, powerhouses, strong mid-majors, and fantastic finishes provide a preview of what lies ahead come in the NCAA tournament.
March is always the venue where the rock stars of tomorrow are truly born.