OK football freaks, I know you’re out there. You can’t get enough pigskin—I get it. And we at 102.5 The Game are going to feed your football appetite plenty during the coming offseason (I know what you’re thinking: “There’s an offseason? No way!”).
But between the NFL combine, the forty times, spring football depth charts, restricted free agents, pro days, Wonderlic tests, shuttle runs, Mel Kiper’s hair, and 143 other “draft experts”---- it’s time to take a breath and enjoy some Hoops. Call it a change up off of your fastball.
Unfortunately for a basketball lover like me this thirst for football has taken much of the spotlight from the Hoops scene. Many of the mainstream sports fans don’t really start to focus on basketball until this time as teams play their final 8 or so regular season games. Less people know the interesting story lines that have been building since December.
It hasn’t helped that college basketball’s product is currently not what it can be. “One and Done’s” not only deprive the game of top talent, but prevent teams from building a strong nucleus that can form “dynasty” type of groups (ie: teams that going into the year you circle on the schedule, or teams that you can name 3-4 good upperclassman because you’ve actually watched them for a couple years). It’s already getting tough to name the players off of the last 4 Kentucky teams and get them all straight. Try doing it 10 years from now.
The flow of the game is also an issue. Like the NBA in the late 1990’s, hand checking and bumping has gotten too common. Defenses in general are better than offenses. Scouting the opposition is better than ever. Teams are also not playing with as much variety. Very few teams press full court for 40 minutes. There are not many teams who truly can say they are “up-tempo”. It’s mostly half court man to man.
Flip on one of the seemingly thousands of games that are on TV each week (another issue in itself- it’s called saturation) and you are much more likely to see a game that ends 56-54 than one that ends 76-74. Wisconsin (a very good team) has played 3 games in which neither squad scored 50. Most teams simply prefer not to gamble- instead emphasizing the minimization of “cheap points” (fast break points, points off of turnovers, or easy baskets set up by breaking through presses or traps).
Despite this, the game still has great drama. With no dominant teams this year, the “little guys” are more dangerous than ever. These teams actually have something that seems to be increasingly rare: Seniors! The excitement will still be there: the intensity, the atmosphere, the pressure, the upsets, and the buzzer beaters.
Locally of course there will be the wide open SEC Tournament downtown at Bridgestone Arena with 14 teams and a thin group that is assured of postseason play. Even Kentucky is not a lock to make it as an at large. Vanderbilt and Tennessee will have to make a miracle run and win it.
Also, pay close attention to 2 non SEC teams having outstanding seasons: Belmont (20-5) and Middle Tennessee (22-4). Both are extremely fun to watch with veteran teams that could win a game or two in the NCAA tournament with the right matchup and a clutch performance. Their bandwagons are worth jumping on. The storyline currently is for both the Bruins and Blue Raiders (each of which has dropped just one conference game in their respective leagues) to continue to perform in EVERY game. This would give them the best opportunity to make it to the Big Dance as an at-large in case they stumble in their conference tournament. The tension is mounting.
So football nuts, take a break from the combine and ingest some bracketology. I’ll be providing plenty of it (home brewed) in the coming weeks on 102.5 The Game during Sportsnight. We also have 3 of the best local analysts you will find ANYWHERE in the country in former Vanderbilt Guard Drew Maddux (Monday’s at 5pm), two-time National Coach of the Year Eddie Fogler (Thursday’s at 5pm), and Athlon Sports College Football/Basketball Mitch Light. The more you dive in the more you will enjoy March Madness. Welcome aboard.
Photo: the AP